Your co-workers are not evil.
I know this sounds like a strange statement to make, but think about how you sometimes react to your co-workers when they do something that gets on your nerves. Think about the ways you respond when someone gets involved in office politics and does something that creates an inconvenience for you. The typical first reaction is based on ego and emotion, which rarely lead to a positive interaction.
If I’ve learned anything about maneuvering the workplace over the last few years, it’s that good things happen when you forgo the emotional, ego-driven reaction and respond after a deep breath and a few minutes to settle down and figure out an intelligent response. In short, good things happen when you allow intelligence to outweigh your ego.
Wars have been fought over ego and injured pride, so why wouldn’t these factors create friction in an office environment? It’s human nature to desire control of your immediate surroundings, and work is the dominant immediate surrounding for most of us, most of the week. When other people invade your territory, they create imbalance, and it can feel as though you’re losing control.
There’s a way to get past this response more positively, and that’s to simply default to an assumption of “best intentions.” In 99% of the cases where co-workers are driving you nuts, they actually have good intentions, but maybe their execution is poor. Maybe they were distracted, or maybe they didn’t think something through all the way to better understand how it might impact you and your team. About 1% of the time, they simply are being difficult, but that’s far and away an anomaly.
If you default to assuming best intentions when dealing with a colleague-created crisis, you can better deal with the situation because you don’t immediately jump to a defensive stance. A defensive stance is never friendly, and it gets in the way of arriving at the root of the issue. When you’re put on the defensive, it’s instinctual to go on the offensive, or run away. Fight or flight is a natural response.
For example, when you receive an email at 4 p.m. on Friday from a co-worker asking for product X materials for a meeting on Monday morning, your immediate reaction is to assume he waited till the last minute and get upset because he just steamrolled your weekend.
That’s never fun, but if you step back for a moment and think, without letting ego get in the way of the reaction, you might come to realize your co-worker didn’t plan on doing this. Someone may have dropped a problem in his lap at the last minute, and maybe he had to cancel his weekend plans as well. Maybe he’s stuck in reactive mode and doesn’t even realize the materials he needs are already created and sitting in a file on your shared server. Pointing him in the direction of the right materials could save both of you hours of toil over the weekend.
First reactions assume the worst, unless you make a concerted effort not to do so. Your co-workers are not evil. Maybe once in a while there’s someone who’s bitter and unhappy, but even those people can be dealt with in a more positive manner, thereby limiting the effect of their negativity on the entire organization.
Default to assuming best intentions in your interactions, and I think you’ll radically lessen the impact of office politics. You can’t get rid of politics entirely, but you certainly can make sure they don’t ruin your day, every day.