How to survive office politics

Shakespearean-style skulduggery or schoolyard tantrums – office politics are universal, and can make or break your production. 

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The heady world of the media is fast paced, glamourous (at times!) and run by highly creative and often temperamental people.  Unfortunately, this can lead to a minefield of egos and Shakespearean-style skulduggery of the highest order. OK, I am being over dramatic, but working in an industry where the majority of people are freelance, where job security is precarious at best and where you’re only as good as your last programme creates a different level of office politics, which can be damaging if you don’t know how to deal with it. Based on my experience as a talent manager, here are a few simple tips on how best to deal with creative but difficult people.

Don’t take it personally
Often in pressurised and busy work environments people can be brusque and rude; when time is precious and goals need to be achieved quickly, this can escalate. You need to remember that this is not about you as an individual. People are not openly saying that they don’t like you as a person; they’re saying that things need to get done.

This is a lesson that can be difficult to learn, but focus on the tasks in hand and think ahead. Make sure you respond quickly, that everything you need to do is done, and be willing to do more. In your head you might be calling someone all the names under the sun and telling them where to go, but how is that going to benefit you? Keep calm and carry on, as the posters say.

“The production office can often mirror the school playground and productions can often feel like starting school with every production.

Act like a grown up
Psychologists often talk about work relationships being a reflection of parent child relationships. Before I ask you to lie down on the couch and tell me about your childhood, this is actually a really valid point, particularly in the way you respond to situations.

Those who respond as a ‘parent’ will respond to situations in a calm, authoritative way, remaining factual and measured about their approach. Those who respond as a ‘child’ will take a much more emotional route, either being defensive – “Why have you asked me to do this? You know I’ve got so much to do!” – or by verbally throwing someone under the bus to deflect attention away from themselves. 

The most conducive working relationships are when you have two ‘parents’ who can engage in a professional manner. Don’t ever lose youthful energy and idealism, but think about your responses and how effective they may be in ultimately helping your career and achieving your goals.

Check your emails
Stressed people can often write stroppy emails or send out communication that isn’t always clear. Sometimes when you are up against a deadline or just in a bad mood, the temptation can be to respond in a stroppy way too.  You effectively mirror the sender’s attitude or perceived attitude, but this can just fuel the fire and add drama. It can also make the sender think of you as they imagine a stroppy teenager, flicking their hair, rolling their eyes and tutting, which does nothing for your credibility with that individual. 

A natural reaction might be to find fault with their request or on some occasions use countering tactics – “Well, you haven’t done this…”  But for an easier life, take emotions out of the equation. Take a deep breath, make a cup of tea (if you sit near me, make one for me too) and then come back to the email with fresh eyes.  In your response be calm, professional and factual, and keep it quite brief. A colleague once said to me, the longer the email the shorter the response.  I am not saying don’t be thorough, but when responding to a long ranty email look for the coherent and resolvable points and answer them factually.

If the sender is sitting opposite you, glaring at them while furiously typing isn’t going to help the situation. Make them a cup of tea (it’s all about the tea and killing with kindness) and ask them to chat about the email in a calm manner.

Sometimes in the heat of their email drama, people can also get information wrong and you may feel like pointing that out. If you are going to do this, my advice is not to cc in everyone and their mother to the email. It’s way better to approach the individual directly to discuss this. If something is going to affect health and safety or the production in some way then do speak up, but don’t humiliate the sender in the process.

Office gossip
We’ve all been tempted by the allure of office gossip – not only does it make us feel included, but also can take the attention away from any perceived flaws we may have. Actually what we are doing can be quite dangerous.

The production office can often mirror the school playground, but the popular ‘mean girls’ change more frequently and the rotation of staff and productions can often feel like starting school with every role.  Particularly when you are starting out, stay clear of gossiping and bitching at work. It can make you look untrustworthy and unprofessional and can detract from the credibility you’re aiming for with your good work.

Yes, other people will do it, but if at all possible avoid the bitchiness, change the subject or just nod – most likely the gossiper will soon bore of relaying the gossip anyway. Most people gossip about other people out of boredom, jealousy or wanting to belong. Remember that and it will help put it in perspective.

When you are tired and working with difficult people it can be so tempting to have a good old whinge and moan.  In fact it can be quite cathartic, but choose who you open up to carefully.  For me, sometimes it’s better to have a whinge with trusted friends and family. They can give distance from the issue without judgement.

There is also always someone in the office who wants to go for a drink, but they are often looking for allies and for people to reinforce their opinions of how badly they’ve been treated or how unfair the situation is. Avoid being lured into these conversations, as before long they could well be relaying to other people that you feel exactly the same way as they do about the boss, or Sue from Accounts (who’s actually a lovely lady).

We are not in high school, but in work you need to maintain a degree of professionalism at all times. The TV industry in particular is a small world and your ability to deal with a range of different people and difficult situations will set you apart and will stand you in good stead for future roles. I think perspectives can become skewed, but you need to remember that whilst your job is important, you are not saving lives, and sometimes a sense of humour, a sense of perspective and a sense of pride can get you through.

 

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