When I mention the phrase “office politics” I’m usually confronted with negative anecdotes about backstabbing and bitching in the office. Just the word politics invokes many interpretations, the majority of those being negative.
In spite of this, it is widely recognised that organisations are innately political arenas and an organisational phenomenon in itself. As part of my day job I’m constantly confronted with tales of politicking that goes on at work. So much so I decided to do some research and I based my Masters dissertation on it. I wanted to find out more about peoples’ experiences of politics in the workplace to gain a stronger understanding of its relevance and impact on working life, in the hope of trying to figure out how we play it.
The more I read and talked to people, I discovered that there is a positive side to political behaviour. It has been identified as having positive organisational effects, in terms of contributing to an organisations goals and objectives, managerial success and is needed for successful innovation and creativity. Being politically skilled was deemed to be the ability to effectively understand others at work and to use this knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance your personal and organisational objectives. Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
I wonder what the politics is like in their office?!?
So why the bad press? The more I read the more convinced I became that instead of fighting it, there must be a way to work with it and to use it to our advantage, to become politically savvy.
Here were some key findings in how to approach politics in the workplace in order to embrace it and use it in a positive way:
- Build relationships – Influencing others through building strong relationships. Networking was seen as key in getting to know important people. Find out who to go to in order to get things done.
- Communicate – Tailor your communication to your audience. Clear and open communication fosters a positive political culture.
- Don’t personalise issues – Keep things in context. It’s easy to become sensitive when we feel like we are being attacked or disagreed with. Keep personal issues to one side and approach from a business perspective – just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they don’t like you!
- Choose your battles – Don’t waste your time on things that don’t matter. Know when to back down.
- Embrace change – Being flexible when faced with change, and encouraging openness, fostered a positive political culture.
- Be interested and do your research – Gather information and keep up to date with what is going on in the business, a “head in the sand” mentality will only cause you confusion and misunderstanding which could be resolved by just having all the information.
- Differentiate yourself from others – What is your unique selling point? Make people aware of who you are.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – I think the important thing to take from this is that office politics exists. Don’t ignore it, learn to use it to your advantage, and let me know how you get on!