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As working professionals in the corporate sector, we all run the risk of becoming political cogs in the workplace machine.
I am not referring to which side of the partisan line you might sit on, but rather how you engage within the unique internal political climate and culture of your organization, juggling and managing the disparate agendas of senior leaders, always reading in between the lines, and being mindful not to overstep the organizational hierarchy all while staying “within your lane”.
The political climates of our workplaces can be all-consuming, and can fundamentally detract from creating an environment that values creativity, efficiency and innovation. As individuals who believe in the values of consultation, collaboration and teamwork, operating within highly political environments for many Baha’is seems to be in direct contrast to these core values.
A senior leader recently shared with me that her key to success in the workplace is not being political, but rather, being diplomatic.
How does a diplomatic mindset differ from a political mindset? Let’s compare the Webster’s dictionary definitions:
di·plo´ma·cy n. skill in managing negotiations, handling people, etc., so that there is little or no ill will; tact.
pol´i·tics n. the use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control.
The distinction here, obviously, is intent. Politics can in fact harbor ill-will, power and control; so can diplomatic relations also yield power and control—but without an intent for ill-will?
How can we aim to create more diplomatic workplaces versus politically-charged workplaces? Increasing our emotional intelligence has something to do with it. In many instances, the power-playing that we see in the workplace does not necessarily stem from greed or ambition but rather from insecurity over one’s job, loss of control and fear of the unknown. Workplace politics relies on intrigue and hidden agendas; while diplomatic engagement relies on the art of persuasion and unity-building.
What would it take for our organizations to decide upon ideas and innovations in a spirit of consultation, in a spirit of love and fellowship, which would ultimately dissipate the need for political agendas and even diplomatic relations?
The Baha'i teachings recommend the use of a spiritual tool called “consultation,” which focuses on finding the truth of the matter and then building consensus:
…consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth. He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. A spark is produced when flint and steel come together. - Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 73.
Consultation works by employing each person’s skill in independently investigating and discerning the truth:
Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others. If he finds that a previously expressed opinion is more true and worthy, he should accept it immediately and not willfully hold to an opinion of his own. By this excellent method he endeavors to arrive at unity and truth. – Ibid.
Consultation works by minimizing opposition and altercation and maximizing love and wisdom. It allows for the open, frank discussion of everyone’s ideas; encourages close fellowship in the workplace; and de-emphasizes division to create a new sense of unity:
Opposition and division are deplorable. It is better then to have the opinion of a wise, sagacious man; otherwise, contradiction and altercation, in which varied and divergent views are presented, will make it necessary for a judicial body to render decision upon the question. Even a majority opinion or consensus may be incorrect. A thousand people may hold to one view and be mistaken, whereas one sagacious person may be right. Therefore, true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. Members must love each other in the spirit of fellowship in order that good results may be forthcoming. Love and fellowship are the foundation. – Ibid.
Can you imagine a workplace where open and frank consultation leads to a unanimous and unified decision as the outcome of every team meeting?
The impact of this inclusive decision-making process would not only engage employees, but also encourage greater innovation—and could ultimately reduce attrition by creating a culture that values people’s ideas, without fear of political retribution.