Organizational politics are informal (“behind-the-scenes”) attempts to acquire, develop, and use power and influence to secure an advantageous result.
Wherever there are limited resources, people are going to disagree about how those scarce resources should be allocated, and they naturally want to gain as much as possible for themselves. This gives rise to organizational politics.
Is “Playing Politics” Good or Bad for Your Career?
Politics are a part of organizational life. In fact, 93% of managers surveyed reported that workplace politics exist in their organization, and 70% felt that in order to be successful, a person has to engage in politics.
In a negative light, saying that someone is “political” generally stirs up images of back-room dealing, manipulation, or hidden agendas for personal gain. Although often portrayed negatively, organizational politics are not inherently bad. Effective politics doesn’t mean winning at all costs but, instead, can be about maintaining good relationships while achieving results.
Studies show that individuals with political skill tend to be better at gaining personal power and managing stress than their politically naive colleagues. They also have a greater impact on organizational outcomes.
Most of the executives I coach react with distaste to the idea of being a savvy political player. Yes, it can be self-serving. However, the reality is that playing politics is normal. Therefore, it’s important for leaders to understand how to use politics for the well-being of the organization.
10 Essential Ways to Use Politics More Effectively
- Take A Stand – When you are challenged, do not back down quickly from your point of view if you are convinced of its validity. Instead, restate your position clearly to make sure that your colleagues understand your perspective. Follow up with a question such as “I’m curious what others think?” Then shift to active listening. Be sure to choose these battles carefully; don’t get stuck overselling in an impossible situation.
- Use your Passion Appropriately – Develop a more relaxed, less intense approach, so that your colleagues will not be repressed by your strong opinion on issues. Your own conviction does not have to mean you are unwilling to listen to others. Stay objective and less emotional. Do not fuel the conversation when it gets heated; be a voice of reason.
- Shine the Spotlight on Others – Maybe you really did most of the work. Maybe you really do deserve all the glory. But don’t seek it. Shine the spotlight on other people. Confident people don’t need the glory; they know what they’ve achieved. They don’t need the validation from others, because true validation comes from within. So stand back and let others shine. They’ll respect you for it.
- Model Ethical Behavior – Recognize the importance of integrity as a key driver of professional credibility. Act in ways that are consistent with high standards and ethical behavior. Protect the company’s reputation as if it were your own. Always consider the moral and ethical consequences of your decisions. Clearly communicate to others the behaviors you will and will not tolerate.
- Treat Others with Respect – Do not criticize any of your colleagues in the presence of others at work. Do not be condescending to anyone by using sarcastic or abusive language, shouting, or emotional displays. Don’t use destructive comments or inappropriate humor to get attention. Avoid the rumor mill entirely by not getting involved in gossip about colleagues. Demonstrate how highly you value, trust, and respect your colleagues by protecting information which they have given to you in confidence.
- Create Transparency – Tell the truth, even if it’s difficult for others to hear. Let people know where they stand. Don’t manipulate people or the facts; only present information that can be verified. Err on the side of more disclosure rather than holding back information.
- Share Information – Don’t withhold information in an effort to gain some advantage. This passive-aggressive means of controlling power breeds mistrust. You want to inspire loyalty rather than fear and suspicion.
- Apologize Easily – Admit and correct your own mistakes. Don’t cover things up, blame others, or make excuses. If you’re wrong, apologize quickly. Make restitution where possible. Don’t let personal pride get in the way of doing the right thing.
- Learn to Give Way – Cooperate and compromise. Before an important meeting, determine where/how you might be able to concede or demonstrate flexibility. Resist digging in your heels and insisting that things be done your way. When tensions mount, remind others of the overriding mission and shared purpose that unites you all together.
- Find the Middle Ground – Tell the other person about the things you both agree on before dealing with the points of disagreement. Then ask the person to help you understand his or her point of view, without interrupting with a rebuttal. When things are not going as you would like, be patient and tactful in stating your opinion so as not to impede progress any further. Keep moving the conversation toward a win-win solution.
While power and politics have a negative connotation for most people, it is through the use of power and politics that most organizational goals are accomplished. Politics can be a healthy way to get things done within organizations.