27/5/2010

On Office Politics

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:29 am

At one stage, very early in my academic career, I joined one particular faction in an on-going debate that was going on at that institution. I’ve regretted it ever since: on balance I think I was probably on the ‘correct’ side on the issues, but factional politics caused me to treat some good people badly, and in general tended to take a lot of energy and cause a fair bit of rancour without achieving much.

Ever since, I’ve tried very hard to avoid factionalism wherever I’ve been. I’m happiest in places where there are no factions – but I’m not sure any such places really exist, it’s just more or less overt. But I try hard to be impartial, to join no camp, and to judge each issue on its own merits. I’ll occasionally work to pull together a voting coalition around an issue I care deeply about, but that’s ideally temporary and based on the merits of the case.

(It’s a little ironic that I try to be so apolitical in the work place, because privately I’m very interested in politics, and probably read more about the issues in US and UK elections than many citizens of those nations, and definitely much more about Australian politics than most. I’ve certainly posted my share of political posts here…)

The problem with this stance, of course, is that while I try to be above and outside office politics, and to avoid seeing the world (well, the tiny world of the School or Department) in terms of factions and blocs, others very much do see the world that way. By choosing not to join any camp, I very often am perceived as being a member of the opposite camp from whoever is doing the perceiving. That’s happened a number of times, and I’m not really sure how to address it. I guess it happens around other issues, too: atheists perceive me to be Christian and Christians perceive me to be, if not atheist, at least deeply unorthodox. And so on.

Then our old friend confirmation bias comes along to join the party. If I vote or speak for an issue espoused by a member of one faction, then I’m clearly just on the side of the facts and the evidence. If I vote or speak against their issue, it’s evidence that I’m nailing my colours to the mast of the opposition, or ‘in the pocket’ of the opposition faction’s leader.

Dunno where I go from here, but maybe I can point people in the direction of this post: I’m really trying, as best I can, to serve the interests of the School and most particularly the interests of its students, in every action I take. If there are factions, that means my actions are likely to coincide with the interests of one at some moments and another at others, but factional allegiance is not helpful at all in explaining my actions.

One response to “On Office Politics”

  1. Mark says:

    I think that because you try to look for a more nuanced position, most people will miss the nuance and try to pigeonhole you into a role that they know how to relate to. Otherwise that leaves you as an unfinished task in their minds.

    But I think you have to persist even so. It can be dangerous. I mean people who don’t fit into any category can get the strongest reaction. People who we have at first see as allies and later find out are different are frightening. Look what they did to Socrates, Jesus and Galileo.

    But without that, the ruts just get deeper and deeper, and then we have the mixed-metaphor pendulum missing the opposite mark.

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