Good guys don’t always finish last when they know how to handle office politics. “Office politics” has a dirty ring to it, but it shouldn’t. Politics is the art and science of running groups, whether it’s a government, religion, school, busin
ess or any entity with more than one person. Because it deals with the methods and tactics that involve authority and power, it can be abused, giving rise to the shady connotation of “office politics.”
But office politics can result in a lot of good for an organization, depending upon how it’s used. It can be a source of employee feedback, a way to generate cooperation and a
tool for resolving contentious issues. As an employee, you can use it to further your career in a company, get your recommendations approved and secure the support of your colleagues.
The leadership institute, Roffey Park, conducted a survey that showed that almost 60 percent of HR managers experienced positive results from the use of office politics. In fact, more than 60 percent of respondents admitted that they engaged in office politics at some time or other. How you view office politics is generally a matter of attitude, especially on the part of management. ER Consulting, a major player in organizational change consultancy, suggests that using office politics constructively starts with assuming that people are not destructive by nature.
Good Results from Office Politics
It is senior management in an organization that can set the tone for office politics and influence whether it becomes a constructive or destructive force. Because they have the power to reward or punish subordinates, senior managers must take the responsibility of managing office politics seriously. Used wisely, office politics can:
- Break down resistance to change
- Secure more cooperation in key projects
- Lead to more effective relationships among employees
- Make employees more principled
- Develop unity in an organization
- Speed up the decision process
The ER Consulting study shows that people who make use of office politics effectively share some common characteristics. They are:
- Highly engaged employees
- Skilled in networking
- Emotionally very mature
- Aware of what moves people and things in an organization
When Office Politics Turn Negative
Office politics become destructive when the playing field in an organization isn’t level or when goals are vague and not shared. You’ll find office politics in a negative form when things like these happen in an office:
- There’s a lot of buck-passing
- Colleagues don’t trust each other
- People gossip a lot and backbite each other
- Employees form office cliques
- Undeserving employees are promoted
- You’re forced to do favors for others
- Others take credit for your work and there’s plenty of turf-grabbing
Dealing with Office Politics
Politics are a fact of office life, and you can choose to ignore it at your peril. Many employees retreat into their shells and rely on their merit or the
results of their work to further their careers. But, as Ayn Rand dramatically depicted in Atlas Shrugged, this leaves the field wide open for others to practice their dirty tricks. You’re better off engaging in office politics constructively to move ahead and help your company succeed. Here’s how.
- Replace a reactive mindset with a proactive attitude. After all, you owe it to your organization to help create a more positive culture.
- Don’t be a victim by default. Go out of your way to publicize your successes and those of your team. Nobody can argue with good results.
- Grab the bull by the horns. When you’re on the receiving end of negative office politics like gossip or innuendo, bring the issue out into the open. Confront the ones responsible and set the record straight.
- Lobby for your rights. Your superiors can’t know everything that’s going on or what went on behind the scenes. Bringing the true story to their attention will help give credit where credit is due.
- Don’t be an instigator. We all become exposed to situations where we can fan the flames of intrigue. Resist the temptation to do or say something that might hurt others or be construed as playing dirty politics.
Politics in public or private life can be a powerful force for good or evil. How you play it in your office is up to you.