It’s all about perfecting your politicking, says Teri Wells
There is a negative connotation surrounding “Office Politics” but the reality is that politics can be “good” or “bad” and office politics exists in every organisation. The offices where we think it does not exist just have a greater percentage of “good”.
What is office politics?
The dictionary definition of politics is “the art or science of influencing people on a civic or individual level, when there are more than 2 people involved.” Office politics are the strategies used to gain the advantage (by influence) for a cause or for personal gain. These strategies give rise to the negative connotation when used at the expense of others and could adversely affect the work environment. However, if used to fairly promote yourself or your project, whilst still office politics, these strategies are often referred to as “networking” (no one gets hurt).
In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way. ~ Franklin D Roosevelt
Making politics work for you
To use it yourself in a positive way and deal effectively with office politics, you need to develop strategies to deal with the political behavior that is going on around you.
Be a good observer and then use the information you gather to build yourself a strong network to operate in
- Who are the real influencers?
- Who has authority but doesn’t exercise it?
- Who is respected?
- Who champions or mentors others?
- Who is “the brains behind the organization”?
- Understand the informal network
Understand the social networks
- Who gets along with whom?
- Are there groups or cliques that have formed?
- Who is involved in interpersonal conflict?
- Who has the most trouble getting along with others?
- What is the basis for the interrelationship? Friendship, respect, manipulation?
- How does the influence flow between the parties?
- Build your own social network
- Do not be afraid of politically powerful people in the organisation. Get to know them.
- Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives)
- Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power
- Build your relationships on trust and respect – avoid empty flattery
- Be friendly with everyone but don’t align yourself with one group or another
- Be a part of multiple networks – this way you can keep your finger on the pulse of the organisation
Q: Someone told me something in confidence, “a secret” that could potentially be detrimental to the organisation. My dilemma is whether to betray the confidence or protect the company. What do I do?
A: This is office politics at its best. The key word in your question is “potentially”. Is the person politicking on you, wanting you to take the bait, stick your neck out etc for their benefit or is there a real threat?
- Look for facts to ascertain if there is a threat or not.
- Confront the “secret teller”.
- Determine if there is a threat to the organisation and give them the opportunity to come forward. Advise them that if they don’t, you will have to speak up.
- If there is no threat, let it go so as not to enable them or to enhance their political agenda.
- If you are unable to establish support for or against, keep your eyes and ears open until evidence or lack thereof materialises.
Golden rules of good office politics
Listen carefully: if you spend more time listening, chances are you will not say something that will come back to bite you later.
Neutralise negative play
It’s natural to want to distance yourself from “bad” politics and avoid these players as much as possible. However the expression, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” applies perfectly to office politics.
- Get to know these people better, be courteous (professional) but always be careful what you say to them.
- Understand what motivates them and what their goals are, and so learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking.
- Be aware that these people typically don’t think much of their talents (that’s why they rely on aggressive politicking to get ahead).
Govern your own behavior
There are some general standards to observe that will stop negative politics from spreading.
- Don’t pass on gossip, questionable judgments or spread rumors – when you hear something, take a day to consider how much credibility it has.
- Rise above interpersonal conflicts – do not get sucked into arguments.
- Maintain your integrity at all times – always remain professional, and always remember the organization’s interests.
- Be positive – avoid whining and complaining.
- Be confident and assertive but not aggressive.
- Don’t rely on confidentiality – assume things will be disclosed and so decide what you should reveal accordingly.
Make the most of your network through positive political action to:
- Gain access to information
- Build visibility of your achievements
- Improve difficult relationships
- Attract opportunities where you can to shine
- Seek out ways to make yourself, your team and your boss look good
The philosopher Plato said, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” If you don’t participate in the political game, you risk not having a say in what happens and allowing people with less experience, skill or knowledge to influence the decisions being made around you.
Once you acknowledge that office politics exist, “good” politicking can help you get what (and where) you want in your world of work without compromising others in the process, and you will learn to diffuse the efforts of those who abuse it.
Whether you hate it, admire it, practice it or avoid it, office politics is real.