More and more you hear about people meeting a potential lover or spouse at work. Personally, I think this is the worst idea imaginable unless you think political suicide sounds like fun.
Suppose, however, that your goal is political, that is, you want to establish a collegial rather than a romantic or personal relationship with a key player who happens to be a member of the opposite sex. You and the other person already have identified mutual business needs and goals. You work exceedingly well together. What’s the best way to build a relationship that will withstand political scrutiny?
Agree on goals. Unless both people are committed to a working partnership, there will be trouble. If you believe the relationship is strictly collegial, but the other person thinks it might begin to blossom into romance, the organization will have a field day. Don’t assume your intentions are obvious, discuss them frankly and negotiate. A man and woman who work closely together need to establish the ground rules.
Treat your colleague as an equal, regardless of rank. This advice may seem obvious but few people follow it. For example, nobody will gossip about the male boss and his female assistant – or vice versa – if it’s obvious that their relationship is one of equals working on common goals. At the least sign of flirtation, the grapevine will shift into high gear.
Conduct business as openly as possible. Nothing fuels speculation like a closed door. The only conspiracy may be to keep the gossips from eavesdropping, but a closed door invites speculation. Once the gossip starts, denials will have zero net effect. As the professional code of CPAs enjoins, there must not only be absolute propriety, there must be no appearance of impropriety.
A collegial relationship must be non-possessive enough so that each partner has other close relationships. This is a little-understood aspect of office politics. It’s not the sex of the players that causes problems in relationships so much as the exclusivity. If Mary and John always work together on major fund-raisers, no problem; but when Mary and John never include anyone else for the practical reason that they don’t need anyone else, they’ve created a power bloc.
Everyone else must work around such a bloc.It’s efficient, but political dynamite. Others assume he and she act as a political unit. That means not one person but two must be persuaded and convinced on every issue. Successful office politics demands that each player act individually.
After-work socializing should be with the gang. I believe that you and your colleague are merely continuing your work-related discussion at the local watering hole, but I am dead certain the rest of the office won’t. Don’t put them to the test. Four people together or, even better, six, do not excite much comment. (More than that and you’ll have another problem: People will wonder if the group is planning a coup d’etat.)
Everyone must be able to see how the relationship helps the organization. If no one can understand why Mary and Ted spend so much time together, for example, that it’s not logical because others doing the same jobs don’t work that closely, they’ll suspect personal rather than professional goals. The logic to a relationship must be obvious if the organization is to accept it.
Is establishing more than a casual working relationship with a co-worker of the opposite sex worth it? For many people, relationships increase both productivity and the pleasure in getting the result.