Magazine article Management Today

Books: The Rise of the Backstabber

Magazine article Management Today

Books: The Rise of the Backstabber

Article excerpt

The office is increasingly full of devious and manipulative co-workers, this book claims, so what can you do about it, other than avoid them?

Office Politics: How to thrive in a world of lying, backstabbing and dirty tricks

Oliver James

Vermilion, pounds 20.00

History and business autobiographies are written by winners. Office politics books are written by work's losers. But that's not a bad thing. If William Sommers, the personal jester of Henry VIII, had given his insights into how the Tudor court actually worked it would have been hugely valuable, especially as he survived the reign with his head attached. Oliver James isn't a jester but as a journalist and psychologist he does have two of the requisites of one: keen insight and the ability to tell an engaging story.

Office politics is a great subject for a book simply because everyone has to put up with it and no one likes it. This is also a problem for the book; that's why the subtitle is very important and James's book has a cracker. It might have been less gripping to have had How to rub along at work without excessive unpleasantness but that essentially is what this and every other book on office politics is about. That is a shame, because we all know how to be decent and pleasant. That's why we buy this kind of self-improvement book. Of course, a little bit of us is attracted to the notion of The Bumper Book of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks in the same way that books on violent criminals sell well. And that, to be fair to James, is what he delivers in the first half of the book.

James identifies a Dark Triad (lovely touch) of psychopaths, machiavels and narcissists, whom we've all known and worked with and, of course, whom none of us are. Reassuringly, he points out (and, remember, James is a proper psychologist) that psychopaths are four times more common among senior executives than among workers.

The early chapters are good on how these various dysfunctional types make progress at work and misery for co-workers. He then claims that their prevalence has greatly increased in the past 30 years, principally because of the decline in the manufacturing of measurable things and the rise of target-led services: 'Into the shifting sands of this modern work environment slides the triadic person. An occupation that is an amoral desert is fertile soil for the triadic.' Beautiful.

The amoral deserts James picks as his main arenas for illustrating triadic behaviour are TV production, investment banking and the EU. James admits that the 'media and advertising include a great deal of people who are primarily psychotic', which I don't think is news to anybody, even Lord Justice Leveson. …

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