Every now and then I like to revisit and refresh a post whose message might be worthy of repeating. This one is from May 2009 and I chose it because I don’t’ expect office politics has gone away since then do you?
If your answer is, “very often” you are likely in good company. It’s a topic that tends to make one grimace and yet, in any business involving more than, say, two people, it is simply a fact of organizational life.
There are many definitions for the term office politics but I think it is about power and advantage; how we acquire it and how we use it to influence others, sometimes for our own benefit and sometimes for the benefit of a larger purpose.
I don’t know about you, but when I first think of the term office politics, I immediately go to the dark side and conjure up images of some very slick people engaging in some very self-indulgent activities. But, politics in organizational life doesn’t always have to be a weapon. It can also be a useful tool. So, in an attempt to distinguish the baby from the bath water here’s my take on politics in the office.
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 in a variety of forms, a very unattractive and destructive activity.
In short, these are the practices that can make organizational life intolerable.
But, if bad and ugly office politics are the bath water, then this is where the baby comes in and where opportunity lies.
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 number of reasons that include:
- To understand and stay focused on the purpose and larger objectives of the organization.
- To forge mutually beneficial alliances with others both inside and outside the organization and;
- To make certain they get the resources they need to accomplish their goals.
It 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 own power of persuasion to contribute to situations where everyone gets to win. This, to me, is the nature of good office politics.
The practice of good office politics relies on three things:
- A good moral compass;
- A generous attitude toward others and;
- An interest in forging collaborative relationships for the purpose of gaining collective strength, learning and growth
As well, the practice of good office politics often carries with it, a bonus. That is, the respect and good will those who practice it earn from the people they work with. In fact, 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?