Setting The Stage

Even if you’ve never had a “grown up” 9-5 corporate job, you’ve probably had a taste of office politics. Often, when you first start a new job, it’s hard to tell where the existing alliances and conflicts lie. You may get sucked into years-long power struggle between managers or departments without even knowing it.

What you type may be used against you...

What you type may be used against you…

You may have been brought in to break an office stalemate. Sometimes, you’ll go into a job know you’re supposed to take on the role of a peacekeeper, but more often than not, you’re left to navigate the social landmines on your own.

Where Do Office Politics Come From?

In many ways, these struggles are just a part of human nature. We’re no longer fighting over the best mammoth hunting grounds, but we do still see every social interaction as a potential battle. It’s easy to lump people into groups of “us” and “them” — and often, we don’t even know why we dislike a particular colleague so much. Maybe it’s an annoying verbal tic. Maybe they don’t pay much attention in meetings. Maybe they keep making the same simple mistakes on paperwork over and over again. Or maybe they’re just a little too outgoing for comfort.

In some ways, not much has changed over the millennia...

In some ways, not much has changed over the millennia.

Of course, not all office adversaries are so innocent. Someone may be working behind the scenes to get you fired, to take the company in a completely different direction, or to take credit for your achievements. In these situations, it’s hard to ignore the urge to panic or wage war — and sometimes the situation becomes so toxic that quitting is the only way to escape the stress.

The truth is that, after a certain age, most of us spend the bulk of our day trapped in a building with group of other people we might or might not have any reason to talk to outside of work. Depending on how your office works, you may not even have common interests or goals. It’s hard to deal with people day in and day out without politics starting to seep in.

Sometimes, as in the case of the recent government shutdown, office politics become…well, national politics. And that’s where you really start to have problems.

Some of the worst back-stabbing goes at bakesales, not in boardrooms...

Some of the worst back-stabbing goes at bake sales, not in boardrooms…

While this can be incredibly frustrating in the workplace, it can be great fodder for fiction! You see office politics crop up as a major theme everywhere from sitcoms to high fantasy. Don’t think that just because an organization is nonprofit, volunteer-based, or trying to advance the general social good, that politics won’t get involved. Your local PTA meeting may be more cutthroat than a billion-dollar firm on Wall Street.

How To Use This Prompt

Fiction writers: What does your character love about their job? What do they hate? Who do they dislike at their job and why? Write a scene where you character has to confront an enemy, real or imagined, in the workplace. (Bonus points if their workplace is on Mars or in Middle Earth.)

Nonfiction writers: Think about a workplace, past or present. Did you ever get caught in the middle of an office dispute? Did you fight back, or shut down? What did you do? Were you able to get what you wanted out of the situation, or were you forced to accept a workplace injustice and move on?

Write a short story, an essay, a poem, or even just a paragraph or two based on this prompt. Then feel free to share what you’ve written in comments, post a link to your piece on your own blog, or submit it for our site!

And if you’d like more prompts and can’t wait until next week, check out our free e-book, “A Year of Inspiration: 52 Writing Prompts from the Renegade Word.”