Published: 08/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5985 Page 35

Q: I work in clinical governance. Recently someone on secondment to our team said: 'You need a flak jacket to work here'. I have become so used to the environment I had not noticed. How do you spot the hidden agendas and the traps that lead you off task? How do you spot and overcome the person who stabs you in the back? How do you get people to be reasonable and work to corporate goals rather than their own? How do I become more political without losing contact across the board?

A: At the heart of your concern is human nature and how to deal with it. First, be realistic. Human nature throws up extremes from Hitler to Mother Theresa and everything in between.

You may not encounter the extremes, but you should expect hidden agendas.

You should also expect people to stab you in the back. That is life. The vast majority of people with whom I have had contact fall within the middle to the Mother Theresa end of the spectrum of human behaviour.

Second, give people the benefit of the doubt. Most will reward your trust. If you find the dark side, make it clear that you recognise it and will give as good as you get.

You do not have to 'get people to be reasonable'. Most people already are, but you will need to work on those corporate goals to make sure they mean something. You need to lead by example: demonstrate your commitment to objectives.

Being more political need not cause you to lose 'contact across the board'.

Politics and political behaviour have a bad name because of the actions of some professional politicians with massive egos. However, politics with a small 'p' makes the world go round.

Getting things done, seeking support, building alliances, compromising - that is all politics, and inescapable and natural. You need to be more political to keep contact, to get people to work on the corporate agenda and to share. do not associate the process of politics with some of the practitioners.

So be realistic about human nature.

Trust and assertiveness in equal measure will serve you well. do not be ashamed to practise politics - it works.

Ken Jarrold has recently retired as the chief executive of County Durham and Tees Valley SHA. Email Ken in confidence at hsjworkinglives@emap. com