on 23 February 2013
Despite the title, you dont need to work in an office to make use of this book.
I work in a privately run prison, and this book helped to understand the attitudes of those people i already knew i could not trust. And, i dont mean prisoners!
Even if, like me, you have no interest in playing the political game to get ahead this uncovers the methodology of how they do what they do, and how to protect yourself. I am a union rep ('career limiting' in itself) and have to dance around the corporate bod's a un-fair bit, and this book will prove invaluable in understanding the motivations of the endless levels of managers i have to deal with. If i know what makes them tick i can plan accordingly.
We have become a nation of office dwellers, who are led by successive corrupt governments, and this has ingrained a certainmentality into the British people on a massive scale. Whether you want to plaay the 'game' or just be left alone, this book is will give you the knowledge to understand thse around you. How you use it is up to you.
The first part of the book analyses why office politics is hard - objective measures of performance are normally hard to come by, especially when team performance is in question and the issue is how far an individual is valued - there is competition for scarce resources (such as promotion) - and then the people who get on can be psychopaths (think Stalin, says James), machiavels (think Henry Kissinger, says James) or narcissists (think: Madonna or Maradona, says James) - or even all three.
The second part of the book tells you what to do about it: learn to act, learn to read people, ingratiate yourself, be assertive, and make your conscientiousness, honesty and rationality work for you.
The book is based on 50 interviews, a reading of research literature, some personal experience, and it seems clear from the text some background in psychoanalytical theory (James recommends a 16 session course of psychotherapy and also being on the lookout for project in everyday life).
The basic propositions in this book are well worth getting to grips with.
But if I was left feeling less impressed than I'd hoped to be, my feeling was that James had rather over-simpiflied life. This is partly that the theory is not quite as well worked through as I'd have liked. It is impressive to talk about a 'dark triad' of psychopathy, machiavellianism and narcissism, but while no-one would want to be a psychopath (although James does also say at one point: think James Bond), machiavellianism seems more neutral (James says at one point: think Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi), and narcissism has its pros as well as its cons (there'a an interesting book about narcissistic leaders by Maccoby; and you might think as a more positive example of this, think Steve Jobs). The other reflection I could not help having was that the stars of office politics whose techniques for getting on etc are featured in the second part of the book, probably are pretty much machiavels and narcissists.
To see a really well worked through example of what it takes to get on in life big-time, by the way, Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson sets out in meticulous detail just how strong Johnson's desire to get on the world, and would do whatever it took to get there...
on 24 November 2013
Although some reviewers have quite rightly stated that the information in this book is obvious (glaringly so in some cases), this has to be qualified in that to the experienced then these things are indeed obvious. However, to those just leaving university or finding their way into their first office job, then this book is an excellent choice. How naive was I many years ago in believing that raw talent and hard work were the only requisites necessary for career advancement! Since those halcyon days of juvenile gullibity I have experienced many bitter and painful lessons illustrating that reality is very much to the contrary. I have witnessed the rise and promotion of some of the biggest idiots I have every known, due to astute connectedness and politicking on their part I might add.
I have also had the misfortune to once work under the management of an out and out psychopath (triadic personality), I mean this guy really ticked all the wrong boxes! He was tirelessly scheming, spiteful, and viscious beyond belief - in fact I used to call him the 'Prince of Darkness', but that was a diservice to Satan really! My point is that knowing these things, which this book clearly points out, are vital for survival let alone career advancement in today's workplace. Unfortunately, the reality is that game playing is an absolute must when you are forced to work for a living and are at the mercy of more powerful people who are superior to you. I have recently witnessed some very honest and hard working colleagues deposed from their positions because they failed to understand these principles which underpin modern office life. We must understand that we have to sing to the tune of our paymasters, and that no amount of honesty and personal integrity will save us from their axe should we not dance to their tune. Very sad really, but nonetheless the truth.
The book is well written and easy to read. I liked the anecdotal stories which clearly highlighted the authors main points. Applying these principles will go a long way towards helping to keep you 'under the radar' so to speak, and to further your advancement should you wish to do so. Overall a very good read and informative.
on 7 August 2014
As the nation's well known psychotherapist Oliver James has a penchant for telling it like it is and stripping away the sheen, the preen and the God only knows chaff. Following on from 'Affluenza' and 'The Selfish Capitalist' there is a distinctly similar critiquing method here but directly aimed at the psychosocial effects of the modern office environment, where - out of a sheer survival instinct - we are tempted to joust in court tournaments for scarce resources by indulging to various degrees in nest feathering astuteness, networking, effectiveness and sincerity tactics, including 'dirty tricks' (sabotage, blackmail, defamation and deception). The purest of "players", known arcanely as the TRIADIC i.e. exhibiting traits of Psychopathy, Narcissism and/or Machiavelianism, cynically and deviously earn their status and monetary prizes at the expense of less savvy adversaries - usually because they appear to operate automatically, or naturally without any seeming joins so to speak.
Such a description is nothing extraordinary if one is thoroughly Darwinian about a typical office day. For instance the usual stock of phrases spring to mind such as "it is a dog eat dog world"; however this might presuppose a club weilding psychopath, imperious narcissist, or treacherous Machiavellian about to constantly battle it out for our status. Instead, the dissembling sophistication of modern living can mean the subtle hand of masked authenticity (even the covert aggressive kind) is hard to determine and: "If you are someone virtuous (conscientious, honest and rational) and who regards office politics as antithetical to these traits, think again. Assuming you want to get your way in the workplace, you may be betraying yourself if you do not use astuteness and appropriate tactics to advance your cause."
One of the ways that James drives his many points home is by using case studies based on confessional research heavily anonymised for the purpose of the book. We follow Charlie, Giuseppe, Gerald, Sofia, Jill and Terry and others in their astute or bungling influence resembling the characters of a medieval court drama. It is therefore little surprising that canniness, shrewdness, and high self-monitoring are valuable traits.
This book is devoted to those who need deliberative insight into the tricks-of-the-trade in order to ponder, chew and refine one's act in direct competition with the born naturals and quick learners. Plenty of reseach makes it abundantly clear that within our multi strands of intelligence there are those who "just get it", who require less effort to reach skilfull maturity in natural expression (talent). The strand Office Politics deals with lies in the field of social intelligence or pragmatism. For those who "just don't get it" they must necessarily learn by observation and deliberate reflection outside the field with hard work 'mapping' talent. Therefore, a strong feature of this book is its NLP like breakdown of the steps -similar to a dating PUA - speeding up the synaptic connections for the introverted slower thinker when their experience produces little intuition. Explained in somewhat nuanced subtlety is why someone is so effective in getting their own way. I for one (being a naive learner in these matters) had not appreciated the championship performing level of someone's game. For example, the story of Charlie who worked as a high rolling Financier showed remarkable precocity way beyond his years that made me wonder at such Oscar winning prescient talent, even to the point of knowing when to quit the burden of 'emotional labour' of his high flying career - and when the fit between persona and authentic self became overly incongruent exacting an insurmountable emotional strain. Indeed he was a true sophisticate, 'knowing' the gap between his presentation of self and the damage it inflicted on his inner core.
Charlie is not a dark and handsome Triadic type steeped in dirty tricks of back stabbing, mendacity and ruthlessness; he adopts deception tactics by white lying omission and presentation management. James opines that outside these more widely distributed tactics there are those who are so immersed in the game to such a point (possibly through psychological disturbance) that in terms of the broad brush strokes of clinical analysis they would fit the description of the most maligned aspects of our often despised narcissistic culture: the tendency to take the easy money rather than pay the price, exploit the vulnerable without principle, and who cleverly manufacture their inflated egos to align with like-ability as their only indicator of effectiveness when the truer measures of output get coveniently obfuscated (see John Maxwell's 5 levels of effective leadership to understand the great bulge of managers in corporate hierarchies that occupy the lower tiers plodding in self promotion).
With such sub-clinical traits hovering around the daily work place it is curious to gain some insight in to their feeding patterns. It is implied that the political theory of neoliberalisation as a cultural force at its very centre precludes just and ethical competition in "order" to benefit a liberal elite; those who have stolen a march on everyone else at the pinnacle of "the system", and a socially cynical astute (the Triad) have the acting talent to sharp elbow their way to the top and keep those starting out in their place. For example, the legal profession - which comes in for some particular revulsion (as a toxic profession along with a number of others) - throws up this insight: "The only sure ingredients of growth are new clients, bigger bills...and more people at the bottom, each a little profit centre, toiling into the wee hours and earning more for the partnership than their take home."
The Triad proliferates in individualistic social systems it is argued, a recurrent theme in James's work. The recent comment by Monbiot is apt: "So, if you don't fit in, if you feel at odds with the world, if your identity is troubled and frayed, if you feel lost and ashamed - it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud". (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/05/neoliberalism-mental-health-rich-poverty-economy). This is an ironic but essentially pessimistic statement about what normality may amount to in a cut throat world. I mention this since for James through his writings tends to elicit positive choices to solve the irrational aspects of Affluenza, addressing them as grotesque rather than labelling them intrinsically wrong. It is therefore to some credit that another old adage "when the going gets tough.." is a lasting legacy of reading this book. James is decidedly a realist.
So.. If you want to make the grade of black belt chameleon in mastering the white arts in your office, particularly if you are in a service orientated job where the links between performance and actual contribution get ever sommuddied and social pea-cocking the only certainty that can be assured to produce an effect on the boss.. Then... Without even a mention of the greyer techniques of lying by omission and back scratching, there is a role call of ingratiation tactics (chameleon ism, flattery, favour rendering), virtuous impression making and assertive go-getting (self-promotion, feedback-seeking, negotiation, networking, reputation building). As a conclusion an intriguing comparison is made with the attainment of office political skills and one's striving for emotional health such that living in the present, insight, fluid communication, playfulness, vivacity and authenticity (rather than passionate sincerity) all contribute to tactical awareness. At the same time, if you believe something is right without a core sense of who you are, and more importantly what is good for you, you are bound not to be sincere to Self.
on 17 February 2014
A fascinating analyis of the triadic personality and ways of coping with such people. I wish, however, that the author had spent even more time on describing the kind of pain that is undergone by the victims of the triadic personality. I understand only too well the deep suffering that can be caused by the narcissistic, machiavellian psychopath who sets out to destroy any critic who dares to expose them for what they are. What is especially terrifying is that such triadic characters do indeed frequently occupy powerful positions and frequently have the kind of charisma that can totally mislead even the most intelligent and kindly of people. Consequently, critics are often left to fight alone against them.The only way to thrive in the company of such psychopaths is to devote yourself to a lifetime of sycophancy. Alternatively, get as far away from them as possible as soon as you can - whatever the cost. And if you are fortunate enough to have the insight to see them coming, avoid them like the plague in the first place. Otherwise you may not survive, let alone thrive.
on 17 March 2013
Having written about money and families in the past he now turns his attentions to the office, and the inter-personal relationships within an office,
For the first part of the book he identifies the three types of particularly nasty individual that you will encounter, the psychopath, the Machiavelli and the narcissists. He details how they will behave, and how to deal with them. The next part of the book looks at case studies of individuals and ties it in with how you can improve the way that you deal with these type of people.
He conclude with measure that you can take to improve your own skills in dealing with the people and pressures of a modern business world.
All of the books that I have read by Oliver James have been really interesting, cover all the aspects of the subject that he is writing about, and offer solutions for you. And this is no different.