Negativity is infectious and chances are, if you are reading this, you are battling with other people’s bad attitudes and behaviours. It’s impacting you and your overall wellbeing, causing you high stress and major tension. Somehow you have managed to get caught up in it. They say politics at work has a way of finding you, no-one is immune. Actually, the opposite is absolutely true. Politics comes hand in hand with negativity and creates toxicity but it needs fuel to grow and spread. Unless you feel you are already immune then you are unwittingly providing this fuel.
A positive work culture will dissipate politics before it has a chance to accumulate. Think about it as a greater flow of positive communication that dilutes any minor negative incidents. A healthy culture is one where bad internal news expires very quickly. Everyone is focused on productive and healthy discussions rather than personal judgements and attacks. A kind of healthy versus unhealthy share of voice. All sorts of things can change the balance of positive and negative flow, from a new senior leader to redundancies and a tough market.
At some point the negativity accumulates to an extent that it starts to become an aggravation to other situations. It begins to compound previously unrelated things like meetings, work productivity, employee performance reviews and previously positive settings become a platform for subjectivity and bias. It starts affecting general wellbeing and employees start fearing underperformance, petty criticism and job loss. The issue now is that everyone is spending more time on politics and less time focused on delivering their work. Inner conflict starts to build up further speeding up the spread of toxicity and more and more people are sucked in. Trying not to be involved but being involved and feeling terrible. Meanwhile, the company’s overall performance starts to slide. It’s a slippery slope.
Certain departments start to break before others. People get fired, or leave, or hang on with little motivation. They remember the once vibrant and positive culture and hope somehow for it to return. But, no-one is doing anything about it and the conditions continue to deteriorate. Finally, as new staff join into the current dynamics, the business has moved so far away from its previous position that its new position is put down to the external market and there’s a general acceptance for a low performing, highly political culture.
Wherever your business is on this downward trajectory. You can cut of the fuel and apply the brakes. Starting with yourself and immediate team. Culture spreads from the top down. First remove yourself from the game and others will disentangle themselves.
Psychologist, Eric Berne identified that negative behaviour is ego-driven and therefore needs to have engagement to be satisfying (for both parties). If you have ever intentionally picked a fight with a partner and got one, you will understand this. The three positions which engage with each other are persecutor, victim and rescuer, this is called the Drama Triangle. All manipulative, unproductive and unhealthy behaviours and responses to the behaviour can be identified back to one of these positions. The key to immunity is to become aware of the action and avoid a reaction that fuels the story.
In Berne’s theories, Dramas are played out much like a theatre or show with the characters playing out the ego positions. Office politics are shows on the stage of the office theatre. The problem is that any participation in the play in any degree is time and effort away from doing constructive and creative project work elsewhere. The theatre analogy is perfect as is provides a stage for the actors as well as entertainment for audience.
The only way to get your business back on track and improve your market performance instead of your theatre performance is to resign from the show. This means evaluating, attending and acting in any drama that is going on in the office.
Easier said than done? Maybe. Spotting the drama through awareness is the first challenge. Once identified the next challenge is practicing a rational and objective position at all times. That may take much effort especially when you may appreciate being part of an ego-group or clique based on your senior position in the business. It takes a lot of courage and self-management; hence the term ‘practice’ is used above.
There is no such thing as half. If you want your teams to start spending their precious time (which you are paying for) on performing better commercially, then you must stop the play and quit the game.