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Office politics: It's a minefield out there

The Office Survival Guide: Surefire Techniques for Dealing with Challenging People and Situations
Marilyn Puder-York
McGraw Hill
238 pages, $16.95

Why must there always be petty interpersonal stuff in the workplace? After all, everyone is there to do a job, so isn't it possible to focus solely on the work at hand and ignore the politics?

Maybe in another world or in the next life, but as long as people toil together -- even if everyone has the best intentions, conducts themselves impeccably, and focuses on the tasks at hand -- conflicts will inevitably occur. Why? Because humans possess differing wants, needs, and values, and these differences often become points of disagreement when individuals have close contact with each other. When they collaborate, opportunities for miscommunication multiply, which increases the likelihood of dissatisfaction or conflict.

Books on office politics, I must confide, are invariably more entertaining than the authors probably intend, due to the necessity of including a multitude of anecdotes to illuminate the sundry lessons they offer. Author Marilyn Puder-York's tales of woe, replete with colorful characters and unfortunate (but commonplace) circumstances, provide the usual vicarious delights. But she fully explores each option in a wise and real-world way.

A typical case explores the unhappiness of an executive passed over for promotion, despite being amply qualified, according to her self-assessment, which Puder-York does not dispute. She then probes a bit at the executive's other assumptions, revealing her lack of proactive communication with the boss who'd promoted another in her stead. Additionally, the author points out her too-casual workplace wardrobe, which failed to support the image of the role she'd sought.

The larger message is to pay close attention to details that may seem less relevant to the job at hand but are clearly useful in getting the idea across to the boss that one is worthy of advancement.

There's nothing earthshaking in Puder-York's suggestions, but she cuts through matters quickly without throwing in irrelevant factors.

Another example involves a worker whose department suffered from attrition. He wonders if he's next, due to mixed signals and other communication problems with his unsympathetic superior. Again, several scenarios and possible remedies are discussed, all of which are intelligent and easily applied to situations we've either known about or encountered.

As with the previous case, Puder-York's approach is ethical and considerate. She neither advises Machiavellian machinations nor duplicitous manipulations, but is aware of the potential perceptions and political implications of a situation and any subsequent actions.

It's worth mentioning that her emphasis, as telegraphed in the book's title, is on survival, rather than on advancement, achievement, or effectiveness. In this age of deteriorating loyalty and diminishing corporate responsibility, this accentuation is consistent with the author's real-world orientation.

This is not to say that managers or human resources executives won't benefit from her wisdom; they will. But for individuals seeking smart and useful options when circumstances at work are difficult or seem hopeless, Puder-York's book might be an excellent resource.

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