In a large corporate organisation, it is no surprise to find politics at play – individual and collective ambition pitching individuals and teams against one another for advantage, however small. It is usually like the most mindless trench warfare, scrapping needlessly over small patches of worthless ground. It is not what the organisation wants, or would wish anyone to be spending their time doing, yet it frequently preoccupies over half people’s remunerated time. Call it a product of society, an anthropological given – call it what you will, there is seemingly no getting away from it.
A most common feature of petty organisational politics is negativity. From overt public criticism, to calculated attritional snipes, the “cat” in the personality of the often most mild mannered “dog” assumes dominance and sets to work.
Its effects are physically and emotionally draining, and it detracts from our productive and creative life. For the perpetrators, it provides cover for not taking responsibility, not participating, and for omitting to respect the reason they are there in the first place. In many cases, it stimulates a response of equal or greater counteracting negativity– and the sapping cycle takes hold until one party is brave or humble enough to break it.
As the recent beneficiary of someone embarking on a needless negative offensive for perceived personal advancement, I have been reflecting on how you break the cycle of negativity. Situations such as this are necessarily a long game, and while resolving not to get drawn in, the distractions of repeated offerings are seriously distracting.
Several years ago, on a long car journey to Gatwick from north London, I got into a discussion with the driver who revealed himself to be a champion kick boxer, and who was training his daughter in the fine arts of legitimately smashing other people’s teeth in, under license of course. I asked how they dealt with the inevitable pain. He explained how he was educating his daughter to take the pain from a blow, box it, and push it aside for collection. It was a process of distancing yourself from the sensation. I have tried it when fumbling around performing occasional and inevitably fruitless DIY tasks, and with the right degree of focus it works. You do have to see it through, though.
Similarly, the act of boxing and setting aside negativity works too. The individual blows can be dealt with effectively, and the supply of boxes is as endless as you want it to be.
That together with a belief that over time, purveying negativity begets its own just consequences.