The term ‘Politics’ is based on the words ‘Poly’ and ‘Ticks’, ‘Poly’ meaning many, and ‘Ticks’ meaning blood-sucking parasites. Whenever people’s priorities, values, and interests diverge, some type of politicking usually takes place. Office politics are inevitable, and involve intentional acts of influence to enhance or protect the self-interest of individuals or groups.
Office politics can be defined as the strategies that people play to gain advantage, personally or for a cause they support. The term often has a negative connotation, in that it refers to strategies people use to seek advantage at the expense of others or the greater good. In this context, it often adversely affects the working environment and relationships within it. “Good” office politics, though, help you fairly promote yourself and your cause, and is more often called networking and stakeholder management.
The major intention of office politics is about positioning, vested rights, resources and careers, influence and power. (There is no real evidence that people would not have organizational objectives in mind by doing office politics, though.) Here are some effects:
- Some people have more power than others, either through hierarchy or some other basis of influence.
- For many people, gaining promotion is important, and this can create competition between individuals, or misalignment between the team’s objectives and those of individuals within it.
- Most people passionately care about decisions at work, and this encourages political behavior as they seek to get their way.
- Decisions at work are impacted by both work-related goals and personal factors, so there is further scope for a conflict of interest.
- People and teams within organizations often have to compete for limited resources; this can lead to a kind of “tribal conflict” where teams compete to satisfy their needs and objectives, even when this is against the greater good.
Political competence is the ability to understand what you can and cannot control, when to take action, who is going to resist your agenda, and whom you need on your side. It’s about knowing how to map the political terrain and get others on your side. To get started, consider using these nine political strategies:
- Know your own interests and goals. Politics are a natural part of human interaction. Accept your perfect imperfections.
- Do your work with dedicated interest and loyalty. For example, be punctual, do your best to observe the rules, improve your knowledge and professionalism, and be the best no matter the size of the job.
- Help design or define clear business documents, e.g. find, read, update or write business plans, job roles, policy documents, etc.
- Avoid negative effects of office politics. Don’t allow anyone to “get” something on you that can be used later. Instead wear no mask, be transparent, flex and bend, listen, park the ego, focus on the business issue at hand, and apologize later.
- Expose dirty tricks used by bullies, sycophants, brownnosers, bad bosses, snakes, office princesses, boss‘ pets, backstabbers, ‘yes’-men, office cynics etc.
- Build relationships inside and outside the organization, vertically and horizontally. Make emotional deposits with the people you work with, and never get into a shouting match.
- Extend your influence by forming strategic alliances. Be known as a producer and not a politician. Do not hold grudges or be vindictive. And never take a problem to the manager without having two or three solutions for the problem.
- Make mutual respect a priority, and show consideration or appreciation.
- Lift others up with you, make their day, and forgive failures.
Office politics show up in different shapes or forms. We will share examples and provide some ideas as to how you can optimally respond to political tactics in one of our next articles. The conflict between self-interest and joint interests or organizational goals requires managerial action. Office politics fill a leadership vacuum. If you build a unified company-wide team, politics won’t have a place.
To be human is to be political. Inspired Executives helps you build the required skills to navigate the politics in your organization. Contact us. As always, we are just an email or phone call away.
With all my very best wishes, Annette.