office politics (reflections upon, plus some thoughts about writing as it relates to IQ)


I had a varied and spotty career in my work life.

I was a freelancer for a few years, interrupted my career to pursue a graduate degree, but spent most of my work life working in offices.

I always hated it. The office environment and culture did not suit me.

It was claustrophobic. One basically has no privacy, feels no freedom to be oneself.

The pettiness, narrow mindedness, and gossip – the constant security of one’s slightest actions, peculiarities, behavior, comportment, grooming and dress, feelings, moods, whims, attitudes, opinions (God forbid that they should be original or controversial), and so forth — were irritating and depressing. The routine mind numbing and ossifying.



In my last office job, which lasted over twelve years — as a writer on the business development team (and prior to that on the communications consulting team) of The Wyatt Company in New York City — I had a boss whom I admired in many respects but also resented.

He was a hard taskmaster.

He prided himself on his savoir faire and intelligence, not without some justification.

He admired my intellect, but he also felt qualified to lecture me, which I found somewhat annoying. He took it as a given that he was the more knowledgeable one.

In the office in midtown Manhattan where I was employed, there were two distinct factions which hated one another.

There was a sort of renegade faction opposed to the current office manager.

The renegade faction allied itself to a powerful figure in the office who had major clients. In retrospect, it seems that he overestimated himself, but people were intimidated by and afraid of him.

The members of his faction seemed to spend an awful lot of time kibitzing and putting down others.

The leader of this so called renegade faction eventually lost out in an office power struggle. He was not chosen as the next office manager, which he had expected. He left in a huff, as I was later told. He filed a wrongful termination suit (unsuccessful) against the firm.

My boss made what I thought was a sage observation while this power struggle was going on but before the denouement. He said he never participated or engaged in office politics. If others started to gossip about or badmouth coworkers, he would abstain.

“The problem with office politics,” he said, “is that if you choose a side, you may end up being on the wrong one.”

That is precisely what happened with the renegade coterie. They left the firm, individually, sequentially — unhappily and under circumstances not favorable to them –shortly after their de facto leader had himself left.


Roger W. Smith

   December 2016




I got to thinking yesterday, for some reason, about this post and about the leader of the “renegade faction” in my former place of employ described therein, anecdotes about whom were intended to illustrate a general point I was trying to make.

A couple of other details occurred to me.

Only a few days after I had joined the firm, I attended a company conference on the West Coast which was devoted to cross fertilization among associates from different offices. That was the first time I became aware of a high ranking employee, Mr. ________, who would later become leader of the “renegade faction.”

The first time I saw him, he was in a corridor of our hotel prior to the beginning of the day’s proceedings. He looked like he had just woken up, and he was carrying a copy of the New York Times which he had purchased at the hotel magazine shop. He appeared lost in thought and somewhat disheveled and looked like a prototypical New York intellectual.

That’s _______ _______,” someone said. “He’s brilliant!”

It turned out that almost everyone in our office held Mr. _______ in awe. Mostly because of his reputedly large stable of devoted clients and his mesmerizing hold on everyone as an absolute authority on employee benefits who was not to be gainsaid.

But — I found out over time — he was no Einstein. Not a genius. His reputation for intellectual prowess, such as it was, was not deserved. (Which is not to say that he wasn’t intelligent.)

He once took his secretary and me to lunch and talked briefly with us about his education. I gathered that (if I recall correctly) he did not attend college right after high school, but went back to school later. The school, which I had vaguely heard of, was a local school with no great reputation. Certainly, not a prestigious university. It may well have been a nonaccredited school. He obviously finished and got some kind of degree in a narrowly focused course of study. Whether it was a bachelor’s degree, I don’t know.

The renegade leader’s secretary showed up at my desk on a workday once and dropped a seven page long, double spaced, typed draft on my desktop. “_______ wants you to edit it,” she said. I did not work for _______’s department, but it was assumed that I would do it immediately with no further discussion. It turned out that what he wanted me to do was edit the draft of remarks, or a speech, he was planning to give to some office, company division, or professional association.

It is actually the kind of work I like to do. I dove right in. Soon I was scratching my hair. The content of the speech may have been okay, but his thoughts were expressed horribly.

However, I have always fancied that I can wordsmith and make read decently just about any piece of English prose — on any subject, technical or nontechnical — written by an adult with a modicum of education and a knowledge of English as a first or second language.

Among the awkward phrases I recall — the renegade leader kept failing miserably at getting his thoughts across, at crafting phrases and sentences — was “Russian red tape expert,” used in the following sentence about employee benefit laws: “A Russian red tape expert would be proud to issue 49 pages of closely printed regulations. ….” I changed it to “Communist apparatchik.” (Upon reflection, I think that “Soviet apparatchik” might have been better.)

I labored over the speech for about two hours and returned it to the renegade leader’s secretary. It was received without a word. I never heard anything from him by way of follow up or got any thanks. I was proud of my work. I still have a copy of his draft with my edits.

It is true that a lot of so called geniuses — this includes true geniuses — cannot write well. It also seems that many of the greatest writers of all time, while showing obvious intelligence, let alone brilliance, in certain respects — did not possess IQ’s that would make them eligible for Mensa.

Just what the relationship between a genius for writing and being in the “gifted” class (as early childhood educators would term it) with respect to intelligence is, is not obvious and raises potentially interesting lines of inquiry.


— Roger W. Smith

   March 17, 2017

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