Politics aren’t limited to the work of governors and presidents; you can find power struggles in sports, in entertainment, and of course, in business. For many, office politics are a source of anxiety and unhappiness. But the fact of the matter is that office politics are unavoidable. In fact, having a solid understanding of how office politics work is vital to achieving success within the company.
What are office politics?
When people talk about office politics, images of corporate backstabbing and watercooler gossip may spring to mind, but workplace dynamics are often more complicated. Office politics are about relationships and power dynamics. Everyone is different and everyone holds different opinions on any given subject, so it’s no surprise that conflict, healthy or otherwise, is bound to come up in the office. It can be as simple as a disagreement over office decoration, to something more complex like competition over a promotion.
Can office politics be a good thing?
Office politics don’t always have to be negative. At the end of the day, it all comes down to status and communication. Learning to navigate the waters of workplace relationships can help anyone climb the organizational ladder, and even resolve professional conflicts.
Below are a few cases of both negative and positive office politics:
Examples of office politics
Positive office politics: Jim and Andy do not always see eye to eye, but set their differences aside to collaborate on an upcoming presentation. They get into a few arguments, but the end result is something they can both be proud of.
Negative office politics: Jim sets Andy up for failure by refusing to contribute to the presentation, showing up late to the meeting on purpose, and blaming the presentation’s flaws on Andy.
Positive office politics: Ann notices that Leslie made a significant typo on an important document. She notifies Leslie before it is sent out, avoiding any potential confusion on the client’s part.
Negative office politics: Ann notices Leslie’s typo, and says nothing. Instead, she decides to report it to her superiors before telling Leslie.
Positive office politics: Ron calls April to his office to review her work performance. He highlights her achievements and progress while calling attention to areas of improvement.
Negative office politics: Publicly, Ron praises April for her work, but in private, he divulges her weaknesses and shortcomings to other coworkers.
Personality types in office politics
In his book, The Office Politics Handbook: Winning the Game of Power and Politics at Work, Jack Godwin outlines eight common archetypes in office politics, each with their own personality and approach to handling moments of professional conflict.
1. The Servant Leader – This type of leader does not rely on titles or status but on the trust of his or her colleagues. Servant leaders effectively lead and manage because they understand how to follow and listen.
2. The Rebel – Every group or organization has a few people who don’t fit into the company mold. They sometimes relish at playing devil’s advocate or carving their own path. While rebels may influence companies to take less conventional approaches, they may be prone to starting conflicts.
3. The Mentor – From coaching athletes to advising on startups, the mentor is the person on the team with the most wisdom pertaining to a specific field or subject. This person uses their knowledge to inform and educate others.
4. The Recluse – Not everyone wants to get involved in the drama and politics of business. The recluse is the introvert- the one who would rather stay at home than attend the office party, who would rather stay silent during heated debates. Their greatest strength and weakness is their reticence.
5. The Judo Master – Judo is the “gentle way”, the inspiration for this particular archetype. Instead of approaching each conflict with power and might, the judo master instead learns to master how to maximize their position by using the least amount of force. Their goal is not to beat the opponent but to succeed through preparation- without the need to fight.
To learn the other three archetypes, read Godwin’s article on TLNT.
Tips for approaching office politics
- Know your role. Where do you stand within the organizational map? What is your goal, and how will you try to achieve it? It’s easy to get lost in petty conflicts and meaningless titles, but there are far more important goals, such as developing an innovative service or creating an engaging workplace.
- Don’t take it personally. No matter how rough things get, try not to take things to heart. The more you can detach your personal feelings from the work at hand, the better your output and the faster you can make progress.
- Learn to listen… It’s not all about you! Learn to understand the point of view of your colleagues and your managers, and what they need. The more you are able to help others solve problems the more likely they’ll help you in return.
- … And communicate. How will others be able to help if you never ask? Speaking with others is a skill that must be honed over time. If you have a problem with someone, build the courage to confront them directly. If you want a promotion, think about how to demonstrate the value of your work. Communication may be easier in an open work environment like a coworking space.
Office politics are here to stay. Instead of trying to fight it, learn to navigate conflict. You may find that it isn’t always about deceit and drama, but about communication and problem-solving. Many of the common challenges can be avoided by learning to listen to others and developing win-win situations for both parties.
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