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How to overcome the damaging effects of 'office politics'



With The cumulative effects of Covid-19 and Brexit, high levels of stress among UK business leaders seem to be unavoidable for the foreseeable future. How we manage that stress and its knock-on effects on our bodies, our thinking and our relationships will be a big factor in determining which businesses prosper despite the current crises.

Research by entrepreneur and author Csab Toth suggests that 60-80% of workplace problems stem from strained relationships between people. Not technology, not procedures or processes, but people. Toth cites the top three reasons for this as ‘clash of values’, ‘clash of personalities’ and ‘poor leadership’. What’s more all three of those reasons stem from the same source – a lack of understanding around why people think the way they do.

Why is it, for example, that some work colleagues find it almost impossible to get along? Why are managers often quick to question the attitude of those who challenge them and to label those people as ‘negative thinkers’? Why do some workmates simply not ‘get it’?

Clashes of ‘common sense’

If you’ve ever met someone and thought the person had no ‘common sense’, you may be surprised to learn that they thought the same about you!

As Csaba Toth explains: “For most people, ‘common sense’ means that someone thinks the same way you do. Unfortunately, if they have a different background, a different mix of values and beliefs, that’s impossible. Workplace differences are often clashes of ‘common sense’. It’s not a binary choice that between being right or wrong. We can have a disagreement where we are both right!

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“However, with the correct mindset in place, we can turn this to our advantage. If there is psychological safety and trust between us and we have a level of cultural intelligence, we can ask each other the right questions. What can you see that I cannot? What do you know that I don’t?

“If you’re able to do that, the diversity of thought leads to problem-solving and innovation. Without trust, those clashes can turn into painful liability. Where there’s no trust, we have to protect our ego, which results in conflicts that won’t be resolved.”

As we attempt to recover from lockdown, what more could we be doing to improve the interpersonal communication within our own organisations? Given the scale of the challenges most businesses face post-lockdown, how can we ensure that our teams are as united and mentally agile as possible, giving them the very best chance of success?

 

Think like a champion

Statistically, at least three out of four people are significantly different to us. As such, the majority of our teamwork and business interactions involve dealing with people you will naturally find to be ‘difficult’. But, if those strained relationships lead to stress, and stress leads to poor communication and decision making, how can we better prepare and protect ourselves and our businesses from these negative impacts?

One approach is to look at the techniques used by individuals who operate every day under conditions of extreme stress: such as those in the military, police officers, paramedics, surgeons, and professional athletes. These professions regularly manage to think and make decisions with clarity and deliver optimum performance despite levels of stress that the majority of us would buckle under. So how do they do it?

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Quite simply, they have learned about their own body and mind and trained to ‘self-regulate’ their stress levels. By combining knowledge of how the human body works with our experience of the business world we can learn to cope with change – and the stress that accompanies it – and deliver peak performance.

It’s time for management to recognise the true costs of stress and strained relationships within their organisations and provide their teams with the tools they need to reduce office politics and come out on top.

Agnesia Agrella is managing director of Symetize.com



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