Stop blaming office politics

I love this quote from the classic book Peopleware so much that I’m making it almost this entire post:

The cause of failure most frequently cited by our survey participants was “politics.” But now observe that people tend to use this word rather sloppily. Included under “politics” are such unrelated or loosely related things as communication problems, staffing problems, disenchantment with the boss or with the client, lack of motivation, and high turnover.

People often use the word politics to describe any aspect of the work that is people-related, but the English language provides a much more precise term for these effects: They constitute the project’s sociology. The truly political problems are a tiny and pathological subset.

If you think of a problem as political in nature, you tend to be fatalistic about it. You know you can stand up to technical challenges, but honestly, who among us can feel confident in the realm of politics? By noting the true nature of a problem as sociological rather than political, you make it more tractable. Project and team sociology may be a bit outside your field of expertise, but not beyond your capabilities.

Blaming politics is a hand-wavey, lazy, “not my fault” cop-out. But it is your fault, because everything is your fault.

Stop talking about politics, and start talking about the actual issues. Issues can be solved, so solve them.


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