How to Find Advantage in Office Politics
What seems like weakness may be advantage.
Your manager’s obsession with the opinion of upper management may drive you crazy. But political skill is one reason they earned their position. Perhaps you should become better at office politics.
I’m not encouraging dishonesty, backstabbing, or disadvantaging others for personal advantage. But learning to play office politics ethically serves you and your team well.
Political aptitude is necessary in all organizations, even if it means you know that straight-shooting is the way to get ahead.
Unethical office politics:
Unethical office politics motivates leaders to worry too much about their own careers and too little about organizational advantage.
7 signs office politics has gone bad:
- Managers avoid or delegate tough decisions.
- Leaders take too long to make easy decisions.
- Feedback is tempered to protect status, position, and ego. (This may be the most pervasive form of office politics.)
- Innovative ideas are watered down to appease power players.
- Conflict goes underground.
- Making people look bad is intentional sport.
- Projects stall while people navigate relationship and appease power players.
No one wants you on their team if you don’t have enough ego to believe you can make a difference and enough drive to care about getting ahead.
Ethical office politics:
If leaders seem too worried about higher ups, dig into their concerns.
- Who needs to know?
- Who needs to be involved?
- Whose approval matters most? (Regardless of their title.)
- What matters most to people in power positions?
Answer political concerns in highly political environments.
The main advantage of digging into concerns is polishing the solution. It’s hard work, but you advance yourself and advantage your organization when you play office politics ethically.
Tip: A low or no cost pilot program may be a useful option in highly political organizations.
How might office politics be played ethically?
How can one help their supervisor or department see that they are creating an environment where unethical office politics exist?
Thanks Uju. I’m not sure you can. It depends on your level in the organization and how much influence you have. In addition, changing culture requires the buy in of top leadership.
You might try practicing constructive candor and courageous vulnerability. However, in political environments, the direct route is often dangerous.
I’ve gone the direct route and it doesn’t have any effect when the owners have more money than they know what to do with and don’t want to put any effort or resources back into the company or its people.
Eradicate them all together. Playing should be left behind in the playground or at least remain in a games hall, not a professional environment. I find it very difficult to associate the words ethical and politics together. All three can and probably has destroyed organisations.
Thanks Thinker. Yes. Many find it impossible to put ethical alongside politics. The term has tons of baggage. I think knowing how to navigate power positions in an organization is essential. You might prefer to use different language.
The way I look at it, rightly or wrongly is, people that are playing any form of political game, are “playing” with people’s lives, for their own ends, no matter of the consequence to the people being played. On a positive, I would prefer the straight talking, open, honest approach, would get my respect and possibly others too.
an alternative and more amiable method to playing office politics, if they are being played by someone, people to get their own way is to be sincere and have tone when talking and yes in writing too. Now this is all I will say on the this topic.
Dan, “…to play office politics ethically…” is an oxymoron.
Thanks Mitch. You aren’t alone in that approach.
I work in the public sector, for government, and this perspective is invaluable. When I started I was very much opposed to “political considerations”, and it hampered my ability to be effective in my work and I was passed over for several leadership opportunities. It wasn’t until I realized that my ideas were only self-evident to me, and I needed to work at building consensus with the people who had the power to put those ideas into action throughout the team and organization that I understood that coming up with a good idea is only half of the battle – the other half is getting organizational buy-in. It took some time to undo that damage, and now I’m in a leadership position with the ability to implement positive and productive changes that enhance the experience of my team and the public we serve.
Politics doesn’t have to be selfish, or dishonest, or unethical. It’s simply understanding how to best represent yourself and your ideas so they will be well received, and understanding who might best assist you in seeing those ideas implemented. If you are honest and thoughtful, and you are working towards a purpose that benefits others, political skill is invaluable. When you’re doing it for your own gain, without regard for other people and with no concern for good outcomes in mind, it’s evil and insidious. And if you’re not willing to do the work relationally, then I probably don’t want you on my team.
Thanks Jon. Your insight and experience shine.
You wrote several great things. One of my favorites, “I understood that coming up with a good idea is only half of the battle – the other half is getting organizational buy-in.”
The challenge of getting organizational buy-in calls us to engage in politics. It includes networking, sharing ideas, perhaps some barter, understanding what others need/want, considering the folks whose reputations are on the line, to name a few.
I love reading your posts as they are always so insightful.
One question on today’s post…how do you deal with a boss who takes credit for everything someone else does, or even just ideas from others?
Thanks! Have a great weekend!
I just tried substituting “emotions” for “politics” and felt a small weight lift. Office Emotions recognizes that people aren’t rational, and everyone has hopes and fears. There are clearly both self-interested and other-interested ways to engage, and not engaging is…well, not actually possible.
As you stated in some of the comments above Dan, “politics” carries with it a lot of baggage. I can see why some many of the readers have a difficult, or even impossible time reconciling with the phrase “play office politics ethically.” Traditional politics has always been about working to get what you can for your constituents with the available resources. “Good” politicians do this while maintaining regard for those outside their own constituency. “Bad” politicians seek only for their own constituents, or worse horde for themselves, with no regard for those outside.
This same thing can and does happen in business. So the good kind of politics is necessary, while the bad kind is what should be avoided. Unfortunately, when people talk about politics they usually have only the bad kind in mind.
Thank you Dan for putting this post out. I am sure this will get a lot of discussion from your readers!
Suggestion for moving forward with office politics: Have you ever noticed how “politics” feels helpless?
If so, consider replacing “office politics” with ‘relationships’.
Why? Becuase we can control and influence ‘relationships’ whereas the idea of positively affecting ‘politics’ feels, well, let’s just say ‘less than hopeful’ 🙂
Keep on keepin’ on, everyone.