How often have you said something like, “I hate office politics. I just refuse to play that kind of game”?
If you said, “very often” you are likely in good company. It’s a topic that tends to make one cringe and yet, in any business involving more than, say, two people, it is simply a fact of organizational life.
So what can we do about it? Well, we can ignore it and hope it goes away. Or, we can take a closer look to determine how office politics could prove to be a tool rather than a weapon.
There are many definitions for the term office politics but I think it is about power; how we acquire it and; how we use it to influence others while also promoting our own agenda.
It could be argued that given this, there is a definite leadership component to the practice of office politics and as such, it’s really not something that can reasonably be ignored. But, it certainly has its dark side and so I’m going to attempt to make some distinctions. Here goes:
Bad Office politics = Self-promotion over the greater good
Self promotion is not a bad thing. After all, when we accomplish something great it is not wrong to feel pride or to talk about it. In fact, sometimes people go the other way and are far too modest when talking about their achievements.
However, self-promotion crosses a line when it is allowed to take precedence over the achievement of collective goals. The practice of bad office politics involves inordinate amounts of unproductive time being spent tapping into the organizational grape-vine, (a repository for incomplete information and throwaway commentary) to determine “strategies” about who to suck up to next or, what tidbit of information might be useful as a questionable tool of persuasion.
Bad office politics is where gossip and innuendo lie. It represents the gray edges of organizational life and it is no wonder that most people have little tolerance for it.
Ugly Office politics = Destructive behaviour that benefits no one.
Ugly office politics takes the notion of self-promotion to greater depths. People who practice ugly office politics are not above taking credit for other people’s work. They are often very crafty and good at placing blame on others for mistakes they have made themselves. In the extreme, ugly office politics includes bullying and coercion, two very unattractive and destructive activities.
In short, these are the practices that can make organizational life intolerable
But let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water here. Office politics, in spite of its dark side, holds some opportunities as well. Here are my thoughts on that:
Good Office politics = Building Positive Relationships
Building relationships is something that leaders must engage in to get things done. They have to go beyond the confines of their own area to build purposeful and focused relationships with people in a variety of roles, levels & situations. They do this for a few reasons:
- To understand and stay focused on the larger objectives of the organization.
- To forge mutually beneficial alliances with others in the organization and;
- To make certain that they get the resources they need to accomplish their goals.
This means spending time with people at all levels of the organization; finding out what makes them tick; giving support to their goals and using their power of persuasion to contribute to situations where everyone gets to win. This is the nature of good office politics.
The practice of good office politics relies on only a few things:
- A good moral compass;
- A generous attitude toward others and;
- A genuine desire to further the interests of the organization
And, by the way, a natural by-product of practicing good office politics is the respect and good will we earn from the people we work with. I have observed that people who practice good office politics often have all the recognition and accolades they can handle.
And that can’t be bad.
What do you think?