How to Deal

Office Politics Is Par for the Course, Regardless of Company Size

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 14, 2008; 4:22 PM

I'm not a fan of office politics (mainly because I'm an introvert), and I'm wondering if smaller companies tend to have less office politics than larger companies. I've worked with Fortune 500 companies and I'm trying to transition to a (relatively) smaller company. I'm just wondering if my old nemesis, office politics, will be there as well.

In a larger organization, it might be harder to get noticed unless you are good at self-promotion. Within the formal structure for employee recognition, introverts like you might have a tendency to blend into the crowd. By their nature, smaller organizations might be a better fit for you because they offer greater opportunities for employees to chart their own course and contribute to the mission in unique and highly visible ways.

But that does not mean that smaller organizations are free of office politics. I have worked for companies of more than 100,000 employees and intimate operations run by a handful of staff. Everywhere I go, I encounter similar issues for the simple reason that organizations large and small are comprised of people. It is human nature to be political.

In fact, one of Merriam-Webster's definitions of the word "politics" is, "the total complex of relations between people living in society." I realize that what you mean by "politics" is people jockeying for position or power, sometimes through unscrupulous or disingenuous means. I am just inviting you to consider that this is no more than an extreme example of the typical human behavior you are likely to encounter in any workplace.

When you make the decision to accept your coworker's invitation to grab coffee even though you have little in common, you are being political. When you smilingly tolerate your boss's meandering anecdote about the preparations for his son's catechism, you are being political. Sometimes office politics is just what we do to get along better with fellow employees, to display courtesy, to avoid hurting feelings.

As far as the "bad" kind of politics, that exists in small organizations, too. I have witnessed employees of extremely small organizations ¿ non-profits, even ¿ gossiping viciously about coworkers to gain a tactical advantage and posturing more shamelessly than any seven-figures VP. But since there is greater individual accountability in smaller groups of people, you can realistically expect to find less of this type of destructive behavior there.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, May 27 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit and publish submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


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