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January 11th, 2008

The corporate world = a bunch of chimpanzees. Really.

So, you think you’re quite evolved sitting in your workstation, checking your iPhone, and sipping a latte. Before you get too proud of how far you’ve gotten on both the corporate and evolutionary ladder, step back. You might not be as evolved as you think you are.

An article on this week’s New Scientist magazine entitled “It’s a Jungle Out There” shows that despite our office cubicles and workstations, our workplace politics aren’t any different from the politics of chimpanzees in the jungle. I happen to agree.

First, a few similarities:

  • Hierarchy. Both corporations and chimpanzee communities have an obvious hierarchy.
  • Cooperation. For the collective to succeed, the members have to play their roles and cooperate. In sharp contrast to this is -
  • Competition. Whether it’s for the attention of a prospective mate or the insurance of one’s survival, both jungle and office building residents have a strong drive to compete.

Any society, man or chimpanzee, needs a few rules to live by. These rules are common to both jungle and office politics:

You need to be a team player. Chimpanzees hunt and gather food together, warn each other against nearby predators, and even watch over each other’s offspring. Observations from the Primate Research Center at Emory University show that when a chimp grooms a friend, he or she is more likely to receive some extra food from that friend later in the day. Chimps who support friends in a fight or a mutiny against the big boss are also more likely to receive special privileges of food and sex if they end up winning.

Similarly, in a corporation, although you’ll find yourself in stiff competition with colleagues over promotions and rewards, you still need to defend your “territory” against your company’s competitors. Teamwork always pays and the one who gets to the top, doesn’t get there without the team’s support.

Sucking up has its benefits. Chimps spend a lot of time grooming those who are above them in the community hierarchy. It turns out that the more time they spend grooming their friends, the more likely they’ll be supported in fights. In the corporate jungle, if you’re a professional brown-noser, odds are your supervisor will back you up for projects, promotions, or raises.

Be a good leader. While some bosses, chimp or human, can be needlessly aggressive and domineering, this isn’t good for the team when it’s overdone. This tends to raise the group’s stress levels, increasing the chances of health problems - including high blood pressure and infertility. With that in mind, the chimp leaders with the longest tenures are those who know how to show others that they’re in charge while being able to share food to those who support them. Think of this the next time you get the urge to throw your briefcase at the mail room clerk.

Know how to settle arguments. There’s bound to be some nasty disagreements once in a while. Chimps, dolphins, goats, and a variety of other animals are known to approach each other after a fight. Often, it’s the one who loses who initiates the making up. If you know how to reconcile in the office, you’ll have a better chance of making it alive than if you were full of pride and refuse to apologize.

Fairness is key. Scientists discovered that brown capuchin monkeys reject around 80% of their food rewards when they noticed that they have been given unequal rewards in exchange for the same object. In a corporation, workers are likely to quit or go on strike if they’re given unfair pay or benefits. So if you want your staff to stay with you, you need to show them that you reward them equally for any equal efforts. If monkeys can spot favoritism, so can your staff.

The insightful New Scientist article discussed above is available online. Click here to read it.

Notice any other similarities between animal relationships and the way your colleages interact? Share them with us in the comments.

By Celine -- 0 comments

January 11th, 2008

Pimping Bookmarks: Office politics

Water cooler gossip.  Promotion wars.  With all the backstabbing and mind games going on, most offices seem like a living, breathing soap opera.  You could almost hear some voiceover saying “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the workdays of our lives.“  If such office drama is familiar to you, you might benefit from the following bookmarkable articles:

How to Steer Clear of Office Politics at Lifehack.org

How to Improve your Skills at Office Politics at Dumblittleman.com

Office Backstabbing 101 at Working With Insight

If you notice your meeting attendance sheets sound more like a family tree than a list of colleagues, here are some tips on how to deal with nepotism.

The Simple Dollar also hosts interesting articles about reporting sexual harassment  in the workplace and dealing with ethical misconduct at work.

Stopping office gossip at The Sideroad.

Any articles you’d like to share?  Did you ever write an article about office politics? Send them in via the comments.

By Celine -- 0 comments

November 25th, 2007

What to do when your team loses

Face it - at least once in your life, you’ll lose.  The Pros team lost last week’s b5 media Apprentice Challenge. While this contest is done in the spirit of fun, real life losses are much harder to cope with, whether it’s a loss of an important client, an unapproved project, or a boss’ disappointment with your efforts.

What’s worse than losing by yourself, is to lose with a team.  Especially if you’re the team captain.  Instead of sulking in a corner, there are more mature ways to deal with losing:

Keep your spirits up.  The second that you hear a negative remark from the little voice in your head, put it out of your mind.  In fact, don’t entertain negative thoughts at all. Letting these thoughts in will bring down your morale, as well as the team’s.

Find out what you could’ve done better.  With each loss is a lesson. Find out what gave the other team an edge over you.  Losing doesn’t necessarily mean that you did a bad job, but that you could’ve done some things better.  Figure out those things and apply them to your next project.

Show appreciation for everyone’s efforts.  Regardless of the end result, your team probably worked hard on the project.  Congratulate and reward them for their diligence - they deserve it.  Go out for dinner as a team, give them an early night off, etc.  Show them that their good work did not go unnoticed.

Focus on how well the team worked.  Apart from asking yourselves what you could’ve done better, congratulate yourselves on what aspects of the project worked really well.  This emphasizes the ‘winning’ aspects of your work.

Look forward to the next challenge.  Get the team excited about the next project, if there is one.  Don’t make any false promises of winning.  Instead, make a concrete action plan that earns the confidence of your teammates.

By Celine -- 5 comments

October 15th, 2007

Workplace Pimps: How to get the boss to like you

The hardest person to please is always your boss.  Befriending bosses is an art - finding ways to get close to them is hard, but at the same time you don’t want to look like you’re sucking up.  After all, when someone is higher up by a few notches on the career ladder, they tend to dismiss niceness as “brown nosing”.  Here are some ways you can get the boss to like you without messing things up in the workplace:

Find similarities.  If you haven’t talked to your boss, you need to figure out the stuff she likes.  You can do this by paying attention to what she says, asking coworkers that already know her, and (gasp) stalking her online.  Okay, maybe stalking isn’t the right word.  I just meant that you should look at her LinkedIn, MySpace, or other social networking profiles.  If she has a blog, read it. Just figure out what she likes and what her hobbies are.  Odds are, you’ll have a couple of things in common.  You’ll be able to use this information to your advantage.  For example, if you discover that both you and your boss like to play tennis:

  •  If she has the habit of asking you how you are or how your weekend went, you can reply “I was working on my backhand all weekend, and all I got was a painful arm.  I guess I should try harder.”
  • You can talk about tennis with a coworker with the boss within earshot.
  • Place tennis paraphernalia on your desk.  Make sure they’re noticeable and can encourage conversation.

Read More

By Celine -- 1 comment