What do conflict and office politics have to do with your career success? Possibly a lot! And sticking your head in the sand (as the ostrich myth suggests) will not make these issues go away.
Office politics might well have elements of conflict embedded, but they aren’t always about confrontation and overtly disruptive behavior within the work environment (sometimes they’re much more subtle than that). Conflict, on the other hand, can stem from personality clashes or other disagreements between colleagues, between employees and their boss, and so on. Confrontation in such situations is common.
The essential fact remains that if you are facing workplace conflict or you get caught in the web of office politics, you can’t hide from it. You either have to find a workable solution to eliminate the problem or you have to remove yourself from it physically–as in finding a new job in an environment you hope will be less fraught with tension.
One of the things you first need to do is try to determine how severe the problem is–or could too easily become. If it seems to be more of a short-term grumble than a “blow the roof off” catastrophe-in-the-making, you might be able to defuse it by a calm, well-thought-out approach. Alternatively, you might wait a while to see if it blows over.
On the other hand, if it has all the hallmarks of a disaster that could destroy work relationships and cost jobs, you might want to head for cover–at another company! Just try not to do that precipitously. As the character in one of my favorite Dick Francis’ books says, “Thought before action, if you have time.”
Another point to consider is how much you believe you owe to the company you work for, versus your responsibility to yourself–maintaining your mental and physical well-being, preserving the hard-earned career success you’ve achieved to date, etc. It’s worth taking the time to evaluate the situation thoroughly before you decide that jumping-ship to a new job is the only course of action you can take.
When you “select” inaction as your default choice, you’re more likely to become enmeshed in the controversy in spite of yourself. That’s largely because you’ve allowed others to dictate the situation and draw you into the dispute on their terms.
If distancing yourself from it physically doesn’t seem like the answer you’re looking for at this point, can you find a way to refuse to engage in the conflict and keep yourself above it? In the case of office politics, can you determine what you need to do to perform your job without getting sucked into the political maneuverings?
In all likelihood, you’ll encounter a situation sooner or later that requires you to make choices–sometimes tough ones. However, if you’re a savvy, career-minded professional, you’ll take action before that happens, to make as sure as you can that you will have options when the time comes, instead of being limited to only one direction.
Taking the long view–or to put it another way, the high road–can put you in a stronger position when you do face a workplace conflict or office politics dilemma. Basically, you can get a better perspective on what you might be dealing with and what the possible responses could be if you prepare for those challenges ahead of time.