Todd Persaud

Get it down on paper!

The secret to managing office politics


Very often, as an English teacher you might encounter misunderstandings in the workplace. He-said-she-said situations that require you to be on top of your game and fully cognizant about what’s going on. 

In many cases, you may even have to act like your own trial lawyer. It’s easy to misunderstand a situation when you’re the only one who doesn’t speak the local language. Or when people use their lack of English in ways to sabotage your best efforts and gossip about your effectiveness as a teacher. 

Believe me, this happens in the real world and it ain’t pretty. It’s what happens … when people stop being polite … and start getting real.

So here are some tips.

The biggest secret for managing office politics

Conflict in a workplace can pop up unexpectedly. This is why it’s necessary for you to write things down. This way, when it comes time to defend yourself or to shed light on the matter you can look back to your notes, like a good lawyer, and bring up what exactly happened, while pointing to your notes with a pen for emphasis. Just like a really good lawyer would do but for much less pay then one.

Make the core of the issue crystal clear to what events transpired that placed you in an uncomfortable position. If you can spell out the dates and times for each event, even better. “Mr. Headmaster, sir, on Saturday the 14th, at 11 PM, Kim So Ju told me in the cafeteria that I had better watch my class or else she will report it to the authorities and get me kicked out of the country. My eye witness is Sam Kim Rhee,” etc. Just remember that sometimes snitches get stiches, so use caution.

Really spell it out

There’s a lot of great information about managing office politics in the book Teaching English in Korean Public Schools by S. P. Lee, so I won’t rehash all of the pearls of wisdom for you here. 

From my own experience, I will advise you keep a diary and keep a record of everything that you’re doing in your schools. 

When things got really hot for me, I had my parents send me a pen that doubled as a recording device so that I could furtively record what the teachers were saying about me and then translate them into English and finally prove my case. It was a great way to cover my butt and feel like Jason Bourne while doing it. You don’t have to go to these extremes, but it doesn’t hurt. You don’t have to wear a wire, but that’s fun right?

When you write in your diary, note the correspondence you had and directions you’re given. This way, if any problems arise, you’ll be able to refer back over your notes and rehash the story more effectively. You will be able to discuss, in detail, the understandings you had in your conversations with the person you’re having a conflict with.

In fact, taking notes is one thing I wish I had done more often, believe it or not. Had I done it, I would’ve been able to speak more clearly to people and I would have finally gotten that one teacher who I couldn’t prove was gossiping about me even though I totally know that she was.  I even wrote it in my private diary but I didn’t want to also share my secret crushes with my headmaster so now I have a separate diary just for these events.

But in all seriousness, When I wasn’t taking notes at the time, I couldn’t express my feelings clearly. So when people were wondering why I was so stressed out, I couldn’t communicate to them exactly what was bothering me because I didn’t really have a sense of what was happening to me. 

It helps to speak the local language, but short of this, take notes and hire a VA to translate them. It’s worth the investment and you get to pretend you are an intelligence agent, which really breaks up the monotony.

On a more profound level, I didn’t really know what the issues were because I hadn’t put it to paper. There’s something about writing your thoughts down that makes them become super clear, even to you! It gives you more clarity. It helps you remember your feelings about specific things too! Writing really does bring clarity and I can’t recommend it enough for you teachers out there who also have to double as soldiers in war. The war on education, fight the power!

If you’re interested in learning more about the power of notes and other strategies you can use to handle office politics, I highly recommend the book The No Asshole Rule. You can guess what this book is going to be about. Download it! It’s well worth the read. 

As a companion piece, you can also get the book Difficult Conversations. Great for dealing with co-workers, roommates, and those annoying relatives you added on Facebook.

Conclusion

So, the ultimate truth I want to impart: put your thoughts on paper so that you can easily talk about what the issues were so that you can hopefully get them resolved.  Because failure to know your history leads to a whole world of crap that you can do without. 

So keep taking those notes, like your life depended on it. Because your career and livelihood may. You can’t trust anyone but yourself. Cheers!


Todd Persaud holds a BFA from New School University and an MA in Applied Sociology from William Paterson University. He has taught in over five countries, and currently resides in Da Nang, Vietnam where he is writing a book about his experiences. He may be reached on his website


The TEFL (re) Education Program

Todd takes you on a trip down to a fiery inferno populated by wild children and angry businessmen where he describes in lurid detail the ins-and-outs of the English (EFL) teaching profession as conceived overseas.

Order your copy!





Comments

While working in an industry, if you continue to run into problems with different people in different locations the problem probably is not primary caused by the industry, locations or other people.

By Jack, Out of town (4th January 2019)

I see much value in the original post. Having spent 15 years (off and on) in this "industry", I can confidently say that being political, non-political, is a challenge. Be that as it may, I submit this:

Most of the problems I have encountered, in regards to office politics, have been due to a female majority in the office. Whether it be Thai, Korean, Japanese or Chinese...they all seem to have a collective agenda-causing unnecessary trouble and drama.

By Josh, Yangju, South Korea (28th December 2018)

I've worked with some challenging people in various jobs, and have managed to get used to dealing with them. The advice of taking notes of everything everyone says and even recording them is just terrible, especially in EFL where you're not in your own country and don't have much power really. This would destroy any chance of fixing the relationship, and also make other people very wary of you. The best thing to do is be generally civil from day to day, but gave a wide berth if possible to the particularly difficult ones. If something needs raising then raise it with them politely, and even if things get heated then go back to being civil again the next day as if nothing happened. This can throw some of these people off a bit, and make them a bit lost for words. The next step might be to discuss things with colleagues or even a manager if the problem is really bad. Failing all that, look for a new job. I don't think you can ever get too attached to a job in EFL. If a situation is really bad, there's always something else out there.

By John, Bangkok (23rd December 2018)

Stop worrying about what other teachers are doing. Unless it's your job to supervise them or they're doing something illegal, it's not your problem. There are supposed to be people in management, etc, whose job it is to deal with bad staff. Let them either do their job or let them suffer the consequences of their inaction.

I've never cared about what other teachers are talking about in the staff room. They may well bitch and moan, but this isn't exclusive to teachers' staff rooms. This is a worldwide thing in every staff room - it's human nature. I just ignore them and surround myself with people I wanna be around.

The most destructive kind of teacher I find is the 'Mr or Mrs Longevity'. The teacher who's been at the school for a while (or longer than everyone else) who assumes the role of being the boss of the foreign staff. They desperately crave respect, admiration and validation from their actual peers but it's never forthcoming. They haven't worked out that if you want people to like you, be nice. They think the best way to get respect is to boss others around and create lots of work for themselves even though no one ever asked them to. The school has never asked them or paid them to be anyone's boss. The school are happy to let them assume the role, but it's never official as the school don't want to pay them. The other teachers often butt heads with Mr or Mrs Longevity as most people don't like being told what to do by their peers.

Mr or Mrs Longevity's soul slowly starts dying year after year. They can't work out why no one respects them. Instead of trying a new approach, they just double down. People avoid them or threaten to quit if the teacher doesn't stop bossing people around, but the school doesn't do anything about it because the bossy teacher does serve a purpose for them. Even if it is counter productive and destructive. Best thing to do with a teacher like this is to take them to one side, explain that they're not your boss and you won't tolerate their BS. If they wanna try it on, you're fully prepared to fire a load of fucks into them in front of the other staff. They will 9 times out of 10 leave you alone as they're ultimately bullies with a huge inferiority complex. They usually go after the newbies who will often ask the question, "Who the hell is that guy?".

The ones I've met have all had one thing in common; they've all been short.

By Simon, Thailand (19th December 2018)

Seriously, 'Snitches get stitches'? People would have to be walking on eggshells around you.

By Larry, Tijuana (19th December 2018)

So let's get this straight, after recently claiming that you 'know nothing' you are now recording office tittle-tattle on a pen and hiring translators plus taking copious amounts of notes on the behaviour of your co-workers who one wonders if they themselves have read 'The No Asshole Rule'. Perhaps tefl is not the right career for you.

By SD, UK (18th December 2018)

Wow, an "interesting" approach to work-life. An alternative to writing down every perceived slight (I am not sure a self-written note is very valuable "evidence" in dispute resolution) is to try to get along with co-workers, supervisors, students and others and focus on your job and not the activities of others.

But if you prefer Todd's approach, go ahead and create and fight your battles.

By Jack, On a trip abroad (18th December 2018)

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