One of the reasons I blogg is that somewhere, sometimes, someone breathes just a little bit easier because of what I write. This post is in response to a reader’s email on how to maintain personal integrity in a challenging workplace.
Office politics generally refer to power play and personality conflicts. People who hate the politics sometimes leave large companies. But for others, leaving is not a realistic option. How then do we go through each day maintaining personal integrity and sanity in the midst of chaos? Here are some suggestions.
1. Adopt a “personal integrity” hero
Remember those “What Would Jesus Do?” bumper stickers? They became popular for a reason. Christians used this to guide their actions when faced with tough choices in today’s world. Your hero may be someone else. Whoever you choose should serve as your model of personal integrity. Then imagine what your hero would do in your circumstances and try to do the same. .
2. Draw a boundary
Identify your non-negotiable values. For example, tell yourself that you will refuse to snitch on a colleague, or lie to a customer. If this boundary is crossed, your personal integrity would be compromised and you can’t live with yourself. Then, go along with whatever is needed as long as these core values are not challenged.
3. Decline to partake in gossip
Sometimes other people try to draw us into their personal politics. They put down another colleague, and try to get us to say something to the same effect. Refuse to be drawn into such office gossip. Any comment you make could be used, usually inaccurately, and attributed to you. You will then make enemies unknowingly. As a rule of thumb, never let negative comments about anyone leave your mouth.
4. Hang around models of personal integriry
One of the mistakes I made early in my working life was to hang around negative people. Their constant whining naturally affected my own attitude. In hindsight I should have spent more time with colleagues who were able to stay focused on what was important to the job and to themselves. Wise people find a way to keep their personal integrity in the midst of chaos, and being around them helps us do the same.
5. Make a fall-back plan
Decide in advance the point at which you would find it completely unacceptable to stay on. For example, when harsh criticism of your work crosses over to personal insults against you. Leave calmly when your limit is reached. This is much easier to do if you have a fall-back plan. Start creating multiple sources of income, so that in a few months or years you are in a stronger position to walk away from compromising situations. In the meantime, learn to survive the office politics.
Only you can protect your personal integrity
The above steps may not be easy to implement, but true personal integrity is hard-won. It takes strength and perseverance to swim upstream against the flow of negativity surrounding us. Here’s one of my favourite quotes to cheer you on your uphill path.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
– e e cummings