When making an exposition to discover the North Pole, be sure someone in the group knows what the North Pole looks like.
– Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne
According to Wikipedia, “Office politics is the use of power and social networking within an organization to achieve changes that benefit the organization or individuals within it”. The philosophical definition of office politics impresses us. Together we ‘achieve changes that benefit the organization’ using office politics as the vehicle. Who wouldn’t support and believe in the propagation of office politics when it seems to have such merit? Until we consider that edgy word ‘power’. To achieve we must use power which bonds with influence and thereby controls the behavior of people. In her article Three Myths of Office Politics Jennifer Miller, leadership development consultant and founder of The People Equation Blog, states “In the workplace, the term “office politics” is often associated with negative behaviors. There’s nothing inherently wrong with people who use power and status, but it’s the way in which they use it that gives office politics its bad name.”
Let’s play a game. Let’s take that ‘use of power’ concept and flip it on its side to show how situational and behavior driven office politics can be. Think about what you would do. Is your behavior helpful or harmful?
Office Politics – Do you recognize it?
Policies We work within boundaries designed to protect. Policies are developed to give our businesses structure and establish guidelines for operation. Through policies we keep people safe, save buildings from destruction, and secure data that runs our businesses.
- Helpful Do you learn the rules, read the policies, and follow the guidelines established by your leadership team?
- Harmful Do you bend the rules or consider them optional for someone in your position?
Order Procedures and processes create an environment for success. Even in this world of creative thought and problem solving mentality, we work best in an environment where chaos is the exception, not the norm.
- Helpful Do you plan your work and prioritize your tasks to be completed on time and with acceptable quality? Do you volunteer to assist team members who are falling behind – because when we succeed, we succeed together?
- Harmful Do you do the minimum because you’ve suspected others aren’t doing their best either so why should you? Do you avoid asking for help when you need it? Do you refuse to take responsibility?
Leverage Leverage is influence used for advantage; it’s a tool used to make a burden lighter and more manageable.
- Helpful Do you use your skills and your knowledge to make innovative suggestions and enhance the outcomes of your team?
- Harmful Do you protect your piece of the kingdom by holding back and offering minimal participation because you’re afraid you won’t get as much credit for ideas that you deserve?
Information Our workplace is where we spend the majority of our time. We build our reputation here, we interact as individuals, we learn from each other.
- Helpful Do you share your knowledge with your leaders and co-workers? Do you learn with the intent of passing on new skills so others can learn to?
- Harmful Do you harbor new knowledge and reluctantly share information because you don’t want anyone to get the edge on you or hamper your achievements?
Trust Trust is more than a word we use to describe commitment. Trust is a bond that seals relationships and strengthens our desire to support and defend people and organizations.
- Helpful Do you keep your promises, tell the truth, comply with policies and adhere to a code of ethics?
- Harmful Do you skip out early or come in late too often? Do you persuade co-workers assume more of the workload so you have to do less? Do you participate in idle and detrimental gossip?
Inclusion Maslow’s third hierarchy of needs states that we all have a need to feel like we belong. We spend much of our lives at work. We can work with greater satisfaction and appreciation if we feel like we belong.
- Helpful Do you welcome newcomers? Do you seek to understand new points of view? Do you accept others from different cultures and habits? Do you commiserate with those in need?
- Harmful Do you ostracize others who don’t share your point of view? Do you talk about leaders and co-workers behind their backs?
Content Our experiences at work are not rainbows and unicorns. There are tensions and disagreements among staff and between projects. Being content at work doesn’t mean we agree with every decision or that we are idly going with the flow. Content means we feel valued and appreciated and we inject that into our relationships. We turn tensions into creativity to build a better workplace.
- Helpful Do you look for the win/win when disagreements occur? Are you loyal to the organization that faithfully pays your salary? Do you talk favorably but also truthfully when discussing issues? Do you tactfully defend a difference of opinion without criticizing?
- Harmful Do you find fault instead of find facts? Do you engage in quarreling instead of finding neutral ground? Do you ally seek and join in unproductive chatter, chastising and feeding each other’s anger?
Support We sometimes mistake support for agreement. As leaders or followers we are thrown in areas where decisions are made to strengthen the solvency of the organization or to expand into new territories or to add or cut a product line. The factors involved in decisions may be a win for some but a painful loss for others. Being supportive doesn’t mean we always agree. It means we continue to do our best work while the transitions unfold.
- Helpful Do you embrace initiatives of your organization? Do you give new ideas a chance? Do you accept the decision and make the best of it? Do you honestly state your concerns but respect the decision by have a supportive attitude?
- Harmful Do you act like the victim when a decision adversely affects you? Do you staunchly refuse to support the decision? Does your attitude reflect your opinion?
Office politics isn’t just gossip, back-biting, trying to finagle a promotion, or buddy up with someone from the executive team. Office politics can be virtuous. Office politics can say “We believe in teamwork”. Together Everyone Achieves More
Answering ‘yes’ to the Helpful questions is a way to win at office politics. Answering ‘yes’ to the Harmful questions – well, it’s a way to be miserable regardless of office politics.
May you always be the winner in the office politics at your workplace.
Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared in People Development Magazine and is featured here with permission.