Navigating Office Politics
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
Office politics is a reality that exists because people in any environment relate to each other. People do not exist in a vacuum. One of the Oxford dictionary definitions says that ‘politics are principles relating to, or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status’.
A simplistic view is that politics is how people relate to each other under all circumstances and for various reasons depending on motivations. Power games are played in and out of the office and sometimes unconsciously. As parents we do this often to our children when we use bribery to discipline, and we reward good behaviour and punish bad. Soon the child learns to push parental boundaries and the power games already begin at toddler level.
In the office, vying for power and status can become unpleasant and even quite ugly. The question is, should one participate in or avoid politics at work? Should an office manager keep the office above politics? Is this even possible given the reality of relationships and individual ambition?
Here are a few guidelines:
1. Be aware of how people in the office relate to each other. Burying yourself in work minding your own business is not always wise because you could become a scapegoat in someone’s power-play.
2. Learn to recognise the signs of the typical political player. They are the person who constantly asks your opinion on company policy and management style and always dresses to impress. They will also offer an opinion on company policy that is usually negative. Also look out for contradictions in their behaviour, to the opinions they express. They tend to be the office gossip.
3. There is also good office politics of course. Working hard to get ahead in your career is to be encouraged, especially if by so doing you show up genuine flaws in company policy or company strategies. This can only lead to growth when change is implemented or success in projects is achieved because of your contribution.
4. Getting ahead at the expense of a colleague in an underhanded political ploy is bad office politics. It can only serve to antagonise fellow workers and it will alienate you.
5. Make sure that you understand your role and position in any group political activity, which attempts to force change in the social order of the office, such as in a change in management. Do not take on responsibility if you cannot follow through with a plan.
6. Do not trade personal principles for acceptance by the group. Be sure that colleagues know your boundaries and respect them.
7. Blatant vying for position and jostling for recognition can backfire, especially when enterprise and company progress is sacrificed for unbridled office politics. When things go wrong, the most active players stand out and are likely to bear the brunt of a failed project.
8. Office politics that lean towards good, healthy competition creates a vibrant atmosphere in the office. It is almost impossible to keep politics out of the workplace without losing vitality or the buzz found in truly progressive companies.
9. Staff enthusiasm for progress must be nurtured even if it comes with some power playing. A good manager will know how to manage even the most ambitious player.
10. A good office manager is always in control of the office situation without being a dictator. Politics should not trump company policy if order is to prevail.
It helps to remember that regardless of participating in office politics or not, there is the choice of good office politics and bad politics. Advance your own career by all means with enterprise, innovation and creativity but never climb that ladder at the expense of another.