Most of us cringe when we hear ‘organizational politics,’ because we imagine catty women fighting in the break-room and annoying co-workers weaseling up to the boss to get what they want. We associate organizational politics with ‘sucking up’ and ‘hidden agendas,’ giving it an inherently bad connotation. If you feel the same way, then you’re limiting your own effectiveness in the workplace by operating with a negative mindset. By automatically assuming that organizational politics are a bad thing, you’ll go out of your way to avoid them. However, just because you avoid them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s kind of like gravity — you can ignore it all you want, but it’s still there whether you like it or not, and working with it rather than against it makes life a whole lot simpler.
At the core of their being, organizations are not computers; rather, they’re human systems, built, maintained, and operated by humans, who don’t always operate logically or rationally. Given that nature, you can’t expect that any idea, regardless of merit, will make it through an organization without organizational politics coming into play. How many times have you had a great idea, only to have it fall on deaf ears? We’ve all been there, and once you learn to get actively involved in the political dynamics of your workplace in a positive way, you will greatly increase your own effectiveness and ability to get things done.
So, how can you positively participate in the political process in your workplace?
- Have a positive mindset. Remember: politics aren’t a bad thing! They’re simply the way that power and interest intersect to affect how decisions are made in an organization.
- Be sensitive to the way the organization works and how the people within it function. Think about who the stakeholders are in your organization. Who has power? Develop those key relationships, and work hard to consistently build your credibility. By establishing yourself as a trustworthy employee with a solid work ethic, you’ll go much further in the political process.
- Cultivate influence. Influence is the proper use of power, communication, and strategy. In cultivating influence, it’s crucial that you remain flexible, adding your approach to a situation, rather than trying to dominate it. Be sure to think through your words/actions carefully, and think about which stakeholders will be affected and what the potential repercussions are.
- Remember your ethics and what they mean to you. It’s very easy to undertake in actions that go against our personal code of ethics and justify them later, so be sure you’re constantly putting the good of the organization first, without doing so at your own personal expense. When everyone works toward the greater good, good things happen.
- Take an active role in the political process. Don’t just sit idly by and watch politics happen around you – get involved! It’s your responsibility to both your team and yourself to make sure that you and your subordinates are fairly represented in the political matters of the organization. You can’t be a truly effective leader if you’re not willing to have a positive impact on the organization’s politics.
While many of us instinctively shy away from anything having to do with workplace politics, we can actually be more effective when we get involved in a positive way. By playing an active role in the political process and maintaining a positive mindset, you can assert influence and make sure that your ideas are heard, without burning any bridges.