“There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”— Charles Dickens
Gossip, backstabbing, schemes and plots. The workplace can be a vicious place, especially for one not well-versed in the art of office politics. Even for those familiar with the art, letting one’s guard down, albeit temporarily, can have devastating effects. Therefore, while it is not particularly ideal, it is sometimes best to approach others with caution, in order to prevent ourselves from being hurt.
That said, while it is important to be on the lookout for others who might want to do you harm, it is — perhaps regrettable — that this caution sometimes mutates into paranoia, and we come to lose our ability to trust others entirely. Thus, in this instalment, we will be exploring ways to be cautious around others, but retain our trust for others.
Firstly, it is wise to keep an ‘innocent till proven guilty’ view on all issues. It makes our lives as well as those of others very difficult when we condemn people as being guilty whom we have just met or know little about. By maintaining an ‘innocent till proven guilty’ view on issues, even while we have our suspicions about others, we do not allow ourselves to succumb to our suspicions, resulting in a better all-around climate for work. After all, the converse is a battlefield where blame grenades are thrown from one end to another.
Once we have inculcated this mindset of not peremptorily meting out judgement on others, we can proceed to reflect on what others do or have done in the workplace. Actions, after all, are louder than words, and it is through actions that we can gauge a person’s true nature. However, it is not enough to merely observe others’ actions. It is necessary to analyse the reasons behind their behaviour. Behaviour is, after all, a choice.
Thus, as an example, witnessing a person who is perpetually nice to others, while gives us an initial feeling of being appreciated, can be a call for concern, for there are two possibilities: one, the person is genuinely a nice person. Two, he could be pretending to be nice so that he can get what he wants out of others – being nice is the easiest way to make others feel obligated to you. So to analyse the reasons behind his actions, we can look at what else he does or says. For instance, does he use what he has done as leverage against others, by saying things such as “I did X for you. Can’t you do Y for me?” does he exhibit negative body language such as firing looks of irritation at his counterparts whenever they refuse to accede to his requests? If the answers to these questions are both ‘yes’, then this person’s intentions are hardly as pure as they may seem on a day-to-day basis.
By analysing others’ actions as a premise to their intentions, we are able to get an idea of what lies beneath the surface of what we see. However, such analyses are often based on many assumptions, and may lead to conflict if we misread a person’s conduct. Thus, it is of utmost importance that when we undertake to understand a person’s true nature, that we ensure that we stay rooted in reality, rooted to what is plausible, and do not get blown away by fanciful ideas and fantasies about a person’s truth.