When people talk about their managers and co-workers playing games at the office, they usually aren’t talking about Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope, Monopoly, or Scrabble. They are instead talking about people engaging in excessively political behavior, managing by deception and misdirection, and stretching the limits of the truth on a daily basis. We’ll call them the “Gamers.”
Those people complaining about the Gamers usually describe themselves (and the folks they want everyone else to be) as honest and authentic, open and transparent, and absolutely consistent from day to day. They want their managers and co-workers to be “real.” So we’ll call them the “Real People.”
Unfortunately, the distinction the Real People make between themselves and the Gamers isn’t quite as clear as they would like. While there are some Gamers with malicious intent, most are people simply caught in a web of behavioral complexity.
They are subject to different and changing influences from moment to moment causing them to change their positions from time to time – and in many cases that’s a perfectly healthy thing to do. They also live in a rapidly changing world, so that their truth expressed at one point may be outdated (and false) within minutes. Finally, the Gamers live, as we all do, in a world where perceptions make a huge difference, and the Real perception of the Gamers is, of course, filtered by the Real People’s own preferences and beliefs and self-interests. (Not surprisingly, then, many Gamers see themselves as Real People and see others as Gamers – and vice versa.)
Having said that, let’s agree that some people appear to play games more often and with more intensity than others. And, in the eyes of the Real People, there’s nothing more maddening than seeing the Gamers succeed where their own Real work should have prevailed.
So we come to the question: how can the Real People compete in a world full of Gamers? I think that, in the long run, being Real will always give one an edge over the Gamers. But that’s hard to see in the intensity of the moment and you have to work at being Real – you can’t just proclaim it and expect it to carry the day. Here are some things to think about.
One, complaining about the Gamers may be cathartic as you talk among family and close friends, but don’t take those complaints back to work with you. Gamers will beat you every time at the “I can complain more about you than you can about me” game. Don’t give them the match to start that fire. You’ll get burned.
Two, remember, others are writing the book about you and writing that book based on their perceptions. And it doesn’t matter whether those perceptions are based on rumors or fact, they are in the book. For you to at least make the book a little autobiographical you have to get your own story out.
Three, to do so, think carefully about the story or the “narrative” you want to tell. Do you want to been seen as the abused victim of constant political manipulation? (Definitely not. See number one above.) Wouldn’t you rather tell this story: his work and even his motives were questioned, but he stayed true to his commitment to getting the work done through building relationships across the organization and a sense of teamwork and commitment in his immediate workgroup? Or how about this story: though she was passed over for a promotion, she continued to work hard and contribute unselfishly to the mission of her team?
Four, follow the principle of “Do good things and let others know you are doing good things.” Tell a part of your story anywhere you can – though never case it as your personal story, put it in terms of the team, the work group, or the organization. If people think those groups are doing remarkable work, they will think the same of you.
Five, there’s a thin line between telling your story with confidence and indulging your ego. Careful self-reflection and self-critique, bolstered by honest feedback from those around you, can keep you grounded and “Real.” It will be tempting to play games yourself, but that’s your ego talking. Put that aside and go about the Real work.