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This chapter is from the book

Leave the Drama at the Theater

The art of survival depends on attracting the right kind of attention. Attention for being that person who, somehow, can be placed on any project with an opening. That is great attention. Attention for being the person who, somehow, manages to go beyond his or her role and find leads. That is also great attention. Attention for being the person who is always mad about something, is never satisfied with his or her pay or promotion prospects, and generally always seems to have a problem with coworkers. You might as well paint a target on your back!

This is not to say that you should not bring up problems or that you should just let people walk all over you. The issue is not so much whether there are problems, but how and in what manner they are brought up. Bringing up legitimate issues with a project backed up by verifiable facts is a good thing. In most cases, bringing up an issue in a constructive way will be applauded, not punished. On the other hand, someone who just complains a lot, whose arguments center on what is right for him or her versus the company as a whole, well, that is never going to go over well, but it especially goes over badly when there are ample numbers of people who would be happy to be doing billing work at all!

  • Survival Strategy #5: Engage in office politics as little as possible. When doing so, always be seen as the cooler head—a force for “drama reduction” rather than “drama escalation.”

Of course, this survival strategy is easier said than done. The term office politics exists for a reason. Even in the best companies, there are those who will use the office to act out their own version of the TV show Survivor during harder times, forming alliances, bad-mouthing coworkers, and otherwise creating drama as a way of coping with conditions that are not ideal. Strangely enough, these instigators tend to have the same behaviors in good times too. As tempting as it might be to get into these games, consider the following:

  • This person says things behind the back of others. What might he or she be saying about you? (Even if not now, someone who acts like this stands a good chance of turning on you in the future.)
  • Is this person creating drama with good intentions? If that were true, would it really be something handled in a manner where you need to be involved? (If the intentions were good, the issues would be going through more discreet channels.)
  • What does getting involved in something like this really say about you? (Most office political issues tend toward the relatively petty; you don’t want to be seen as someone like that.)

When it comes to these kinds of issues, you want to be seen as the “adult in the room.” The person everyone knows is fair-minded (considers both sides), trustworthy (does not spill information back out in a gossipy manner), and fact-based (when judgments are made, the question is, “What are the facts of the case?”). By demonstrating an even-handedness and fairness with how you approach office politics, by being a force for drama reduction rather than drama increase, you become perceived as someone who can keep your cool when dealing with clients that can be difficult. By being the person who is known as the cooler head, you put yourself far past someone who, even if that person has more well-known technical skills than you, is perceived as an engagement risk because of his or her demeanor.

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