Political Lessons for the IT Crowd
Today’s blog entry is a lesson in politics. It’s one of the things I deal with more than anything else at customer sites – there’s the politics between groups of workers (say, the DBAs and the SAN guys), and the politics between individual people. Both come into play, and affect working relationships and how things do or don’t get done. Sometimes these situations are impossible to break down the proverbial walls, and things come to a standstill. Sometimes it’s just personal – there are some people who frankly just don’t get along or ever will. Sometimes these reasons for not getting along are valid, other times they are perceptions or incidents that have been blown out of proportion, things heard second hand, etc. What do you do?
1. Pick and choose your battles carefully. Complain too much, and you’ll be ignored. Be a shrinking violet, and you become a punching bag. Know what you realistically can possibly “win”, and fight for what’s really important even if you lose. If you’re low man on the totem pole, get someone above you in your corner. Realize that at the end of the day, it’s going to be about compromise.
2. Be factual, not emotional in e-mails, calls, or in person. This is the mistake nearly everyone makes. When emotions come into play, tempers flare, things are said, and it devolves quickly. You never want that. Be rational and calm – never vindictive. Everyone pays the price in the end when things escalate.
When it comes to communication, keep e-mails brief or don’t even e-mail. If you’re in the midst of a potentially (or already) ugly situation, it’s best to deal with it in person or if that’s not possible, over the phone. IM, Twitter, texts, Facebook, e-mail, or even fax are NOT the right way to handle it. Words on proverbial paper can be easily twisted and misconstrued. Avoid that situation like the plague.
3. If you find yourself in a difficult spot, know when to walk away. At the end of the day, you only have your own integrity and dignity to preserve no matter what people may say or think about you. It certainly isn’t the best feeling in the world to hear that people think of you one way, even if a majority feel otherwise. An influential and vocal group of people saying bad things about you can impact your career. Unfortunately, if you’re not given the opportunity to at least be heard to respond to any impressions/criticisms/problems/etc. or told directly, do the right thing. Walk away. What’s done is done.
Perception is reality sometimes, and maybe it will change over time. Even if that perception is based on something wrong, it’s right in their mind and you may never be able to change it. Often times you will never find out what the problem is; one day you’ll wake up to find out things are “different” – there will be a vibe, a feeling. You’ll know.
Personally, I find it sad and pathetic that people who have a problem with an individual can’t confront them and have an honest discourse about it. When you don’t say anything, things fester and get to a point where they can’t be resolved. Myself? I’m an up front individual and tell it like it is (within reason of course; you can NEVER be all bark and bite … sometimes you do need to tone it down), and have no problems taking feedback about myself so I can improve, or if there’s a problem, let’s address it and move on. In my career I’ve never been 100% successful at that in every case. I’m not perfect, nor is anyone else. I’ve been wrong and will admit when I am. Being the bigger person – whether it means admitting you’re wrong when you are or walking away – takes more guts than people proverbially turning their backs on you.
4. Along similar lines, never betray confidences and don’t put someone you like in a tough spot, either. If they’re between a rock and a hard place, don’t make it any more difficult for them. Bow out gracefully.
5. Last, but not least, treat everyone with kindness and respect. It’ll also get you farther …
What can you take away from this? Realize that the key to success isn’t necessarily that you’re a rock star at what you do, or that you’re even the smartest person. Know what’s going on around you and gauge the temperature of a situation or a person before you say or do something. Of course, being smart and really good does help, but it’s like being book smart in school and getting all As (at least here in the USA), but lacking street sense out in the world. Politics is everywhere, and an inevitable part of your job. Once you learn how to navigate those waters and deal with difficult situations, you will be all the better for it.
Thanks for the comment, Chuck. Sometimes you need to walk away for non-technical reasons, too, such as unreasonable exepectations or pressure that will be put on the other people involved for working with you. Doing the right thing is never easy.
This is a very good post, Allan. It is a sad but unfortunate reality in IT that we IT pros are often pressured to acquiesce to decisions/opinions that we know are technically incorrect, but which are politically expedient and favored by the majority.
It is a brave IT pro who walks away from a contract or a FT job at the cost of asserting what he feels is technically the right thing to do.
calm, rational, and factual is always the way to go in every situation – not just at work. Take all emotion out of it even when you think you are dealing with a close ‘friend’ in the office.