Confiding in a Political Dunce

To paraphrase Harry Truman:  "If you want a friend at work, buy a dog."

While this might be sound advice, there aren't very many of us that can last for years friendless in the corporate environment.  I, for one, would find going to work each day in a friendless environment almost too much to bear.  But if you are going to make friends in your workplace, make sure you're aware of the limitations and dangers of doing so.

Most (but not all) work relationships are "friendships of convenience."  In these, proximity and shared experience tend to throw unlikely people together for the good of some cause.  But over time projects shift, people move to new assignments, and the political environment alters.  Today's ally might easily become tomorrow's opponent.  You would do well to correctly identify and manage this somewhat superficial type of relationship, and not allow yourself to become overly invested.

In one instance early in my career, I was deeply hurt when a "friend of convenience" transferred to a new job, and I found her my opponent during some particularly nasty departmental infighting.  At the time I felt betrayed, but later realized the truth -- the relationship never had real depth.  When it was convenient, the two of us were easy allies.  When the power structure shifted the other direction -- we became opponents.  Nothing personal, just "business."

Later in my career, I once found myself upset with my boss (a common enough occurrence).  In this particular instance, I confided the reasons for my irritation to a peer with whom I thought I had a friendship.  He apparently didn't value the relationship to the same degree I did, as he immediately ran to my boss and repeated everything I said.  I scratched that man off my list of "friends," regretting only that I'd realized his limited commitment to me too late to avoid a confrontation with my boss.

Even when relationships have more to them than just today's project or alliance, you must realize that your friend's political acumen could be disturbingly low.  In such instances, you must be very careful in what you confide, as your friend might very well betray your trust and not even be aware of it.

In a friendly boss-subordinate relationship I once had, I made the mistake of letting my subordinate know exactly what the CEO thought of him -- a gift that I thought would potentially save him years of frustrating lack of progress in his career.  Although even a modest corporate politician would have realized that I was taking a big risk passing this information along, this particular employee was a political dunce.  He immediately asked the head of Corporate HR (could there have been a worse choice?) for "confirmation" of the information I had shared.  This quickly led to an uncomfortable conversation between myself and the big boss, one where he ironically told me I was "too honest."

I've always had friends in the workplace, but over the years, I've learned to be very careful about what I disclose to them.  I manage this by continuously assessing the depth of the relationship, and understanding the political skills (and limitations) of my friends.  And while self-disclosure often leads to a tightening of relationships, I do so in a step-by-step process, taking plenty of time to make sure I'm on firm ground before bring up anything that might be seriously damaging.

And even with all that, I still make mistakes.  Maybe I should just buy a dog.... 15.6

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.Novels: LEVERAGEINCENTIVIZEDELIVERABLES and now HEIR APPARENT (published 3/2/2013) -- note, the Kindle version of DELIVERABLES (a prequel to HEIR APPARENT) is on sale for a limited time for $2.99.

Mark Carson runs to help manage the pain of a failed marriage.  Soon, however, he will be running for his life.

Mark Carson runs to help manage the pain of a failed marriage.  Soon, however, he will be running for his life.

To the right is the cover of LEVERAGE   This novel explores the theft of sensitive DOD designs from a Minneapolis Tech Company, and the dangers associated with digging too deeply into the surrounding mystery.

These novels are all based on extensions of my experience as a senior manager in the world of public corporations.