Hate office politics? It all comes down to point of view. – DAVID RAUDALES


Businessman, musician / former Full Stack Developer


Hate office politics? It all comes down to point of view.


Perspectives is a weekly newsletter about careers, leadership, and growth by Ancestry CEO Deb Liu.Liu writes that it’s important to get a sense of why the people you work with act the way they do.  She also offers strategies like demonstrate openness to deal with someone who seems political. 

“I hate office politics.” 

This was something someone said to me at a Women in Product event in Seattle. I replied, “Office politics is like the weather. Ignore it at your own peril.”

Anyone who works in the corporate world can tell you that the word “office” coupled with the word “politics” is a hated combination. Over the years, however, I’ve noticed something. Everyone who works for a company feels like there’s a lot of politics, but ask them and they will tell you with complete confidence that they themselves are not political.

Think about that for a second. How can this apparent contradiction be true? 

It all comes down to point of view. From our perspective, everyone else seems to be playing politics because that’s our interpretation of their behavior. But our lenses for viewing our own behavior are colored by our intent. We do things for reasons, but others do things because they are political. 

What if we could see office politics from a totally different perspective? 

Understanding office politics 

In a recent survey of 800 people published in the Los Angeles Times, 40% of participants reported they had considered leaving a job because of office politics, and 25% reported they had actually left their job over it. But what if the problem isn’t “politics,” but how we interpret it?

Contrary to how they may seem, most of the people you work with are not terrible people. They are not out to get you. Their goal is not to make your life harder. They struggle with the same things you do, from a lack of clarity to overwhelming pressure. All the negative things we go through in our jobs are likely things our coworkers have had to deal with too — but none of us see it that way. 

This isn’t to say there aren’t people out there who are genuinely disruptive, terrible to work with, or who try to steal credit. But for the most part, people’s behaviors are a response to the incentives they’re given, whether positive or negative. At the end of the day, we are all organisms that can only do our best to adapt to whatever context we find ourselves in. 

I remember a sermon at church where the pastor said, “Anger is a will thwarted.” “Politics,” likewise, is someone else acting according to their will, even if that goes against someone else’s. Many times, when we talk about politics, we are talking about being on the other side of someone with deeply different goals than us. 

Think about the following scenarios:  

You are told by your manager that in order to get that promotion, you need to ship a feature before the end of the quarter. Someone comes to you from across the company who desperately needs resources for a critical project. Do you stop what you are doing to help, knowing you will miss your deadline?

You are told that there are limited engineering resources and that you have to make your best case to get your initiative funded. Then you realize something else should be a higher priority for the company. Do you tell the VP to put the resources there instead? 

You are told there is one opening to become the team manager, and you are up for it. Do you yield to your peer, who is equally good and has more experience than you, or do you fight for the position? 

In scenarios like these, our own incentives, the incentives of the company, and the incentives of others may not be aligned. There isn’t a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” but we may not even notice this. We’re willing to forgive ourselves for being selfish in order to get that promotion or to land that funding. We are partisan and fight for our teams, refusing to look at the bigger picture. How does that look to the person on the other side of the issue — the coworker who wants that role just as badly, or the team who may need those resources more?

From where they’re standing, we must seem awfully political. 

Perception versus reality 

I once worked with someone who others felt was always playing politics. I knew their reputation, but I never put much stock in it because I knew who they were and what they truly cared about. It drove me crazy to hear others talk about someone I respected so negatively, so I set out to understand it. 

As it turned out, the disparity was that he was an information gatherer. He would speak to a large number of people to understand the general sentiment and get support for his ideas. Because he was so well-connected and knew everything that was happening (he was talking to a lot of people, after all,) others didn’t see his behavior as genuine. 

What was interesting was that the broadest swath of people who attributed his behavior to politics were the ones who were farther removed from him. Those who worked with him more closely were able to see how gathering information made him more effective. It was like night and day. 

The less perspective you have on someone, the more likely you are to draw incorrect conclusions about them. Even when you’re close to them, only they can truly know what’s going on in their mind. Consider that the people who seem to be playing sides, backstabbing, or stirring up drama might actually be trying to act in the best interest of the company or their teams. For all you know, they’re just doing the best they can with what they have, the same way you are. 

There will be times when you see others acting politically, and there will be times when you will seem political to others. The bigger question is how you will respond. Do you extend grace and understanding, or do you feed into the maligning machine? 

Aligning perspectives 

Once, when I was running a platform team, we wanted to implement a feature that was within the user experience of another team. They put us through the wringer, fighting us every step of the way. The product was objectively in high demand by our customers, and it was a company priority from the top. But they made every single meeting a battle, picking over every pixel. Every person, up and down both teams, felt the disconnect.

Everything changed when one day I told the other team, “I want you to stop thinking about this as me asking you to put [this feature] in your experience. I want you to see this as us building something for you that you own and can take to market as your own. You should name it anything you want.” Suddenly it was like a switch flipped. We immediately went from adversaries to co-creators, all it took was forming a shared perspective.

We often see other people’s teams as “the other.” I hear this a lot, and I myself was guilty of this earlier in my career. I felt like I had to fight for my team and our goals. I saw relationships as adversarial, not collaborative. It took me years to understand that when you create us-vs-them relationships, you are, by necessity, creating the very politics you hate.  

What if instead, you could look for ways to connect over shared goals? 

Reducing politics 

When you genuinely get to know someone, you have a better sense of who they are and why they act the way they do. Often, gaining more perspective on someone forces us to reevaluate how we viewed their actions before. The more context you have, the harder it is to write their behavior off as political. 

I once worked with a leader who displayed an “either you’re with me or against me” style. It made everything feel like a zero-sum game, and I found it off-putting. As a result, I had a hard time navigating the relationship. But then, when we ended up on the same team, I found him to be wonderful to work with. It was hard to square the version of him I was seeing then with the picture of him I’d had before. I realized that I had not taken the time to get to know him before, and I hadn’t really understood his perspective because we sat in different organizations. 

Sometimes, all it takes to see the reality of a situation is a little more context. Try these strategies the next time you find yourself dealing with someone who seems political:

Take a step back. Recognize that your perception of them may be coloring your view. Consider that they may not see their own behaviors as political. 

Ask for their perspective. Listen closely and directly — and that means not just waiting for your turn to speak. Actively try to understand why they seem hostile to you or your idea. 

Demonstrate openness to hearing their point of view without prejudice. 

Get outside input. How do people who work closely with them view their behavior? Do they have a different perception than those who are farther removed?

Put yourself in their shoes. Why would they say what they said? Could your behavior have played a role? 

When all you have to base your opinion on is your perception of someone else’s actions, you risk jumping to conclusions and burning bridges. Instead, look for ways to expand your viewpoint and get more insight into the logic behind their behavior. You may find that they no longer appear political at all. 

Deb Liu is CEO of Ancestry and a Silicon Valley tech executive of nearly two decades. Read more in her Substack newsletter, Perspectives.

Read the original article on Business Insider