Dealing with workplace politics

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Workplace politics is the process and behaviour in human interactions involving power and authority. It is also a tool to assess the operational capacity and to balance diverse views of interested parties. It is also known as office politics and organisational politics. 

It is the use of power and social networking within an organisation to achieve changes that benefit the organisation or individuals within it. Influence by individuals may serve personal interests without regard to their effect on the organisation itself. Some of the personal advantages may include access to tangible assets or intangible benefits such as status or pseudo-authority that influences the behaviour of others.

On the other hand, organisational politics can increase efficiency, form interpersonal relationships, expedite change, and profit the organisation and its members simultaneously. Both individuals and groups may engage in office politics which can be highly destructive, as people focus on personal gains at the expense of the organisation.

As expressed by James Larsen, “Self-serving political actions can negatively influence our social groupings, cooperation, information sharing, and many other organisational functions." Thus, it is vital to pay attention to organisational politics and create the right political landscape.JarieBolanderwrote"Politics is the lubricant that oils your organisation's internal gears." Office politics has also been described as "simply how power gets worked out on a practical, day-to-day basis.

Mind Tools shared the following: office politics are the strategies that people play to gain an advantage, personally or for a cause they support. The term often has a negative connotation, in that it refers to strategies people use to seek advantage at the expense of others or the greater good. In this context, it often adversely affects the working environment and relationships within it. Good "office politics", on the other hand, help you fairly promote yourself and your cause, and is more often called networking and stakeholder management.

Perhaps due to the negative connotation, many people see office politics as something very much to be avoided. But the truth is, to ensure your own success and that of your projects; you must navigate the minefield of Office Politics. If you deny the 'bad politics' that may be going on around you and avoid dealing with them, you may needlessly suffer whilst others take unfair advantage. And if you avoid practising 'good politics', you miss the opportunities to properly further your own interests, and those of your team and your cause.

Why work politics are inevitable: Some people have more power than others, either through hierarchy or some other basis of influence.

For many people, gaining promotion is important, and this can create competition between individuals, or misalignment between the team's objectives and those of individuals within it.

Most people care passionately about decisions at work and this encourages political behaviour as they seek to get their way.

Decisions at work are impacted by both work-related goals and personal factors, so there is further scope for goal conflict.

People and teams within organisations often have to compete for limited resources; this can lead to a kind of "tribal conflict" where teams compete to satisfy their needs and objectives, even when this is against the greater good.

Making Politics Work FORYou - to deal effectively with office politics and use it yourself in a positive way, you must first accept the reality of it. Once you've done this, you then need to develop strategies to deal with the political behaviour that is going on around you. The best way to do this is to be a good observer and then use the information you gather to build yourself a strong network to operate in. Here are some tips:

Re-Map the Organization Chart

Office Politics often circumvent the formal organisation chart. Sit back and watch for a while and then re-map the organisation chart in terms of political power.

Who are the real influencers?

Who has authority but doesn't exercise it?

Who is respected?

Who champions or mentors others?

Who is "the brains behind the organisation"?

Understand the Informal Network

Once you know who's who in the organisation, you have a good idea of where the power and influence lay. Now you have to understand the social networks.

Who gets along with whom?

Are there groups or cliques that have formed?

Who is involved in the interpersonal conflict?

Who has the most trouble getting along with others?

What is the basis for the interrelationship? Friendship, respect, manipulation?

How does the influence flow between the parties?

Build Relationships

Now that you know how the existing relationships work, you need to build your own social network accordingly. Do not be afraid of politically powerful people in the organisation. Get to know them. Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives). Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power. Build your relationships on trust and respect – avoid empty flattery. Be friendly with everyone but don't align yourself with one group or another.Be a part of multiple networks – this way you can keep your finger on the pulse of the organisation.

Listen Carefully

When you spend more time listening, you are less likely to say something that will come back to bite you later. Also, people like people who listen to them.

Make the Most of Your Network

As you build your relationships, you need to learn to use them to stay clear of negative politicking and also to promote yourself and your team positively. It is up to you to communicate your own and your team's abilities and successes to the right people, and you do this through positive political action. Use your network to:

Gain access to information.

Build visibility of your achievements.

Improve difficult relationships.

Attract opportunities where you can to shine.

Seek out ways to make yourself, your team and your boss look good.

Neutralise Negative Play

Your mapping of the informal spheres of influence in the organisation will have helped you to identify those people who use others for their own purposes, and not necessarily for the common good. It's natural to want to distance yourself from these people as much as possible. But what can often be needed is the opposite reaction. The expression, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" applies perfectly to office politics.

Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them.

Understand what motivates these people and what their goals are, and so learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking.

Be aware that these people typically don't think much of their talents (that's why they rely on aggressive politicking to get ahead).

Govern Your Own Behaviour

Don't pass on gossip, questionable judgments, spread rumours – when you hear.Through observation, you'll learn what works in your organisation's culture and what doesn't. Watch other people at work and identify successful behaviours that you can model. There are also some general standards to observe that will stop negative politics from spreading.

Something, take a day to consider how much credibility it has.

Rise above interpersonal conflicts – do not get sucked into arguments.

Maintain your integrity at all times – always remain professional, and always remember the organisation's interests.

Be positive – avoid whining and complaining.

Be confident and assertive but not aggressive.

When voicing objections or criticism, make sure you take an organisational perspective, not a personal one.

Don't rely on confidentiality – assume things will be disclosed and so decide what you should reveal accordingly.

Be a model of integrity to your team, and discourage politics within it.

Positive or negative – politics happens. The philosopher Plato said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." And this holds true today in the workplace: If you don't participate in the political game, you risk not having a say in what happens and allowing people with less experience, skill or knowledge to influence the decisions being made around you.

Office Politics are a fact of life. Wise politicking will help you get what you want in the world of work without compromising others in the process. Learn to use its power positively while diffusing the efforts of those who abuse it, at the end of the day the power is yours.