Office politics. Those two simple words are enough to strike fear into the heart of the average working professional, resulting in everything from a subtle tensing of the shoulders to an eye roll, or even an outspoken declaration that they will never engage in political wrangling at work.
But here’s the thing: When we’re talking about office politics, all we’re really talking about are the unspoken rules of influence that exist in every organization. That’s it. Saying that you’re not going to “play politics” is roughly the same as saying that you don’t need to have influence to do your job.
Of course, that’s not true. If you work in your average professional environment, you can’t get things done without influence. For example, you might use influence to get buy-in for your ideas or projects, gain approvals for increased budget or additional staff, to rally your team towards an end goal. And influence is binary – you either have it or you don’t. Those who do have a choice to make: Do they use influence for good, to lift their co-workers up and become a change agent in their organization? Or do they use it for the sole benefit of gaining more personal power? Those who do the latter are what give office politics a bad name.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have to stop looking at office politics as something that is fundamentally evil. Once you have a better understanding of how that influence is attained, you have every ability to use that power in a way that is ethical, above board, and to create much better relationships with the people you’re working with. People use office politics for these things all the time – we just don’t notice them as much as the negative because we’re more likely to give our attention to the things we don’t like, rather than the things we do.
If you’re interested in creating a better work experience for yourself, and for the people you work with, you have to stop looking at office politics as something to be afraid of and start looking at it as something that you can use for good. At the end of the day, it’s nothing more than adapting your behavior to get the best outcome out a specific situation at work, and hopefully that’s an outcome that helps you make progress towards your most important goals. There’s nothing wrong with adapting your behavior. In fact, we do it all the time without realizing it. You probably act very differently at home than you do at work, or at church, or your kid’s school, or on vacation. So, adapting your behavior to more specific individuals or situations at work is really no different than what you’re already doing. When you embrace it, you’ll be more effective, get more done and you’ll probably be a whole lot happier.
To help that process along, I’m going to demystify these unspoken rules of the workplace. Each day this week, I’m going to publish a new article outlining my five principles of office politics to help you understand and navigate the psychology of the human workplace. Here’s a sneak preview of the five principles:
- People are not logical and rational. And because of that, office politicals in an inherently irrational process. Treat it as a rational one and you will lose.
- Relationships are your goal. That’s how you will gain greater influence.
- People have different national tendencies at work. Understand their work style will help you adapt to them.
- Always look for the win-win. Another word for that is compromise, or giving up a little of what you want to give someone else a win, and to lift them up.
- Learn to pick your battles. Make sure that you’re not expending all your influence on things that don’t really matter.
Check back here and I’ll update this article with links to each article about the five principles as they go up. You can also follow me on here to be notified anytime I post a new piece. At the end of the week, you’ll have a playbook that you can use to up your office politics games and use the power for good, not for evil.