The Fairness of Office Politics

Integrity and Political Motivation

by Edward B. Toupin

I hear many complaints daily about the "unfairness" of politics in corporate America. Employees say that their managers "lie" or issue "personal attacks" against them. Indeed, based on the pure ideals that we are taught as a child, this might appear to be the case. However, the corporate culture is not the "real world" in which we live out our personal lives. Each corporate culture is its own world with its own rules and reality. To understand this, one must understand the directions and desires of this world and learn how to best adapt to achieve the vision and mission of the corporation.

--- Integrity and Politics ---

I have to say that the words "integrity" and "politics" do not belong in the same sentence. This is in no way an insult to corporate politicians, but politics is not a reflection of the integrity of the individual.

The primary purpose of politics is to obtain a result. In some cases, management may not tell the whole truth and might apply "plausible deniability" to escape judgment. However, when an untruth is used, it is primarily to accomplish a task. In this way, managers may not "tell" you directly what needs to be accomplished, but instead they create a gap or an imbalance, which forces the necessity for change and action. The end-result is a desired outcome.

Realize that, of the many reasons for this approach, one of the primary aims is to delegate responsibility to subordinates. If a manager has to constantly tell you what to do and how to perform, then they could very well perform the task themselves. This contradicts the entire purpose of your position as well as the manager's and interferes with the desired result. However, if they create an imbalance in front of you, then you must creatively solve the situation, define a path, and obtain a viable result to attain a rebalance.

--- The Thin Line ---

While I say that the present-day ideals of integrity do not apply to corporate politics, indeed, there are some cases where individuals do abuse their political power. As such, ethics and morals do begin to apply. Not only must you, as an employee, understand the reasons and applications of politics, but those who wield the political sword must understand how to apply their power properly without stepping over the line.

The one problem that appears in this situation is in the ability to tell the difference between "a lie" and a "political detour". Indeed, it is a difficult task if you look at it in simplistic terms. However, until a person has gained some experience with corporate cultures, my standard response is, "when you're in the corporate setting, it becomes a political detour". One must not take things personally in the corporate environment, as it is not about the individual; it is about results --- plain and simple.

However, the political world can step over the line by the power-hungry or untrained corporate politician. The one way to judge such an action is based on your own personal lines. If indeed a situation seems to purposefully step over into your personal life, then you must make a judgment call. Such situations can occur when your associates are able to create conflict in your personal life.

The one most important lesson to learn is that one should never provide access to one's personal world within the corporate world. Indeed, for congenial interaction, it is accepted that you provide some basic information about your personal life. However, keep it simple and do not provide any information that could create issues with others. It is important to maintain a distance between the realities in your "personal world" and the realities of your "corporate world".

--- How many of me are there? ---

Indeed, this entire scenario can complicate one's life with the idea of maintaining two different "selves". However, to balance your world with your corporate world successfully, it is best to view your corporate world as a "sub-world" of your entire life. In all cases, all of human interaction is lumped under one world, with a multitude of sub-worlds and environments. You have your corporate world, your "buddy" world, your hobby world, and you family world, as just examples. Indeed, you experience different rules and expectations (i.e., politics) in each. Therefore, by learning the rules of the corporate sub-world, just as you have your other worlds, you can easily integrate and manage the politics to achieve greater success in your career as well as your life.

--- What's next? ---

In the corporate world, it is not a question of ethics or integrity; it is a question of results. Properly trained managers are able to use politics as an effective tool to obtain the results that fall in line with the corporation's vision and mission. You, as the employee, must learn how to separate your personal world from the corporate world so that you can effectively understand the purpose and direction of the corporation without falling prey to your own personal ideals.

Each corporation is as much a living, breathing, and consuming being as is a human. Just as your cells fight for the survival of the human, corporate politics is not about the individual, it is about the survival of the corporation. By understanding where the line exists that separates your two worlds and adapting to the idea that political motivation is about results, then indeed, your interaction within this strange, new world will be more effective and successful.

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About the Author

Edward B. Toupin is an author, life-strategy coach, counselor, and technical writer living in Las Vegas, NV. Among other things, he authors books and articles on topics ranging from career success through life organization and fulfillment. For more information, e-mail Edward at or visit his sites at or

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