Book review: Office Politics, by Oliver James

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 4:24pm


Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks

by Oliver James


The basic notion in this book is that as ever more of us work in complex white-collar environments, success at work depends ever more on office politics. But where blame can be spread and credit stolen, and the bonus pool depends on staying in the boss' good graces, you need to know how to hustle.

The traits that make for a successful hustler are not always attractive, Oliver James says. In fact, there's a "dark triad" of characters disproportionately represented in office environments: psychopaths, who have no conscience; machiavels, to whom others are pieces on a chessboard; and narcissists, bursting with malignant self-love. James classifies people who are a mixture of all three "triadic individuals".

With the help of some amusing and horrifying case studies adapted from his own experiences and some 50 interviews he conducted for the book, James devotes the first half of Office Politics to telling you how to recognise a nasty character when you're sharing an office with one.

The second half is spent advising the reader how to be just nasty enough to get on without actually being a total triadic individual: learn to read the lie of the land; suck up without looking sucky; boast without looking boastful; network and scratch backs; cultivate a persona but don't cause yourself to have a nervous breakdown by cultivating one wildly unlike your own, and so on. James is at his most persuasive when he talks about fields of work and structures of reward that encourage the worst sort of politicking.

Sadly this book feels unloved by author and publisher alike. No editor has bothered to correct James' clumsy way with language, his comma splices and dangling modifiers, his top-of-head misquotes (we have Tony Blair saying "I think people know I'm an honest kinda guy") or his repetitions.

There's even a typo on the back cover. Will Oliver James take his own advice and find someone at his publisher to blame?

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