Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business


Politics is one of the worst aspects of being in business for yourself, at least, it is to me.

There are plenty of people that seem to enjoy the game and that relish the thought of using their skills at politics to establish a position that they would not be able to achieve on merit alone. I’m not one of them.

Chances are that you are also not one of them, but politics, alas are a fact of business life.

There are a couple of scenarios that are important to go through here, they’ll give you an idea of how far this can go.

  • The intrigant

    Someone might have decided they don’t like you, but they don’t come out to tell you. Their motivations are usually hard to unearth, if they even have any. It might be personal, it might be that they think that you have their job, it might be that by calling things as you see them you’ve made them look like idiots.

    Whatever the reason, you now have an undeclared enemy at the company that you are working for. This is a problem, and needs to be dealt with. One sign of such an issue brewing is that between one meeting and the next you sense a change of atmosphere or it seems like people seem to have an idea about your stance on things that does not match your own. The way to deal with this is to make your stance perfectly clear to everyone. The strategic CC is a very important tool here (see ‘email’) by keeping everybody in the loop you minimize the number of opportunities people have to backstab you.

    If your not-so-friendly-person is the person that is your only contact with the company you’re working for, especially if your customer is large enough, broaden your exposure, make sure more people there know who you are and how to reach you, and keep them informed. This will help right the picture.

    If at some point you have hard proof that you are being misrepresented or in some way treated unfairly, bring it up, put it out in the open for everyone to see, and make a point of resolving that before moving on. Have it out, get the person that does this to you to either put up or go away (not shut up, that just leads to more backstabbing later on).

    This kind of thing won’t happen often (fortunately) but occasionally you’ll run into some pocket Machiavelli that has it in for you. Whatever happens, NEVER let this provoke you in some way and NEVER walk out of a job because of that.

    This is your one opportunity to show yourself at your most professional, chances are that you are - as an outsider - in a unique position to expose this person, and you will find that a lot of other people that did not have your freedom to act felt the same way and will be on your side in a heartbeat. These characters are almost always repeat offenders, and they will think that they can handle an outsider with the same tools that work on their co-workers, but that is not true.

  • The Cuckoo

    The Cuckoo is an interesting character. They toss every other bird that does not ‘quack like they do’ out of the nest, one way or another. The Cuckoo is usually flanked by yes men/women that in whole or in part have their position because of the Cuckoo.

    This is a difficult situation to deal with, especially if it has been in place for a long time.

    If you come across this - rare - construct you’ll usually find it in a very large and older organization, simply because it takes time to get something like this established.

    While it is possible to dismantle a structure like that a freelancer simply does not have the time and energy left over to deal with stuff like this. If you come across a situation like this where all ears are deaf unless the ‘right’ words are spoken my advice would be to return the job. Taking on a challenge like that is a multi-year, multi-person effort, you are basically talking about a corporate culture change and that does not happen on the timescale a freelancer operates on.

    You have to know which battles to pick, this is not one of them. Knowledgeable insiders backed by the management have a chance at cracking this, for an outsider it is a very difficult thing to do.

  • The Prima Donna

    Prima Donnas are not necessarily female, they usually are people that may have some skills but have gone completely overboard in their own estimation of those skills and their value.

    This manifests itself as being a very bad team player (high strung confrontations about minor details) and lots of frustration between co-workers. If you become aware of such a situation you are in a difficult position, especially if you and the prima-donna are facing off all the time over possible directions. This can mean two things, either you have it wrong (make sure to check), or that this person really is full of themselves and are in for an attitude adjustment.

    You have several options, the first one is to tough it out and do it their way, but to make sure that you mark very clearly that you disagree with the direction and that this will have consequences later on (indicate the consequences and make sure it is on paper or at least email), you can confront them and cut them down to size (this is going to lead to another problem you now have made an enemy), or finally, you can try to sway them to your point of view by very careful and reasoned argument. The latter is preferable, but not always possible due to the mix of characters involved.

    Getting someone to realistically estimate their own capabilities and to value their own contributions is very difficult.

In all, it is best to avoid getting bogged down in politics, if you have a feeling that a job is going to be like that then you are best to avoid it completely if you have alternatives lined up. These things cost time, energy and can cause you lots of aggravation, all of that could be spent on better things.