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The Mental Health Tax of Office Politics

David Sherry
2 min read
The Mental Health Tax of Office Politics

Companies are just people.

And when people coordinate, it’s difficult to meet everyone’s needs.

After all, each of us has the habit of thinking that we can control the world around us…when in reality, each one of us is attempting to do this with our own goals to the world around us.

When we have disconnected desires in startups, we call this “Office Politics.”

You can think of “Office Politics” like a mental health tax on your company.

It slows down our shared progress, and leads to burn out or employee churn.

In startups, a shared mission is critical for rowing in the same direction, and putting in the extra effort to do something that delights a customer.

But what do you do when the startup you’re at has a culture which also includes….

  • People with Egoic mindsets
  • Aggressive responses to your questions
  • People passing blame and responsibility
  • Lack of support, or worse, active manipulation or sabotage for personal gain

Leading to having questions like…

  • Is sharing your opinion in this meeting will be received openly?
  • Will that information be used against you?
  • Will you be supported if and when you make a mistake, or need help?

Many people say that “Culture is what you do” but to me culture is more “What people expect you to do.”

Meaning, if the culture has a precedent, people will act within the culture even before it shows up transparently.

Culture is what we expect to happen.

If you expect to be shut down, you might not speak up.

If you expect to talk the whole meeting, you omit allowing someone to share an idea.

If ownership and responsibility are not rewarded with freedom (and instead, micromanaged) then we don’t expect people to pursue responsibility.

So, how can we build better cultures with less office politics?

At the center of every great organization is TRUST.

In fact, trust is what runs the economy.

I trust the Uber drive, the pilot of my flight, the chef at the restaurant. I trust all of them to keep me safe, healthy, protected.

Capitalism has a fundamental gift to humanity, more trust, through more trade.

And trust is built one cue at a time.

I take step, you take a step.

1. Trust is built through repeatedly meeting someone else’s needs.

If I go for breakfast every week to the same bakery, I trust the quality of the food they provide me and the way I’m treated by the staff.

You can earn trust by being attentive to your employees needs, listening and serving.

2. Trust is built through vulnerably expressing your own needs.

When we can speak to what we need, we have the opportunity for someone to support or help us in what we ask.

If I have a problem with the dish I’m served, I want to be able to share that it wasn’t what I expected, and ask to see if there’s something that can be done to help resolve my problem.

You can build trust with your employees by expressing and asking for what you need. Not because they have to serve us (that is the selfish ego), but because they choose to.

Trust scales, and unburdens us from the friction of misalignment.

When we are met positively within these two modes of interacting with the people around us, our expectations begin to be set around a culture of trust.

The point is that building trust as a Founder or CEO is fundamental to building a company around your vision.

If you fail to trust and build trust, internal friction will arise and set a culture that taxes your companies ability to scale and retain employees.

Company OrganizationBurnoutInterpersonal Communication