Office politics: you can ignore it, but it won't go away

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Being sneaky, advancing at the expense of others, starting conflicts - this is how many describe a devil, an ancient angry god, or a politician. Even if you are not an exorcist, not a member of a parliament, you can always encounter such personas in your office. Or even worse, maybe it’s you who make people around you feel horrible.

Is there a workplace without politics?

No. It’s natural that people achieve their work objectives partly through their relationships with others. Participating in office politics, however, doesn’t have to be malicious, or manipulative.

Minimally politicized workplaces are the least common:

  • Friendly and polite employees.
  • All work together to achieve business goals.
  • Employees avoid conflicts or gossips.

Moderately politicized workplaces are typical of fast-paced, results-driven businesses:

  • Conflicts occur from time to time between different teams in the office.
  • Employees focus on achieving team goals.
  • Subtle office rules exist.

Highly politicized workplaces are highly divided, with definite “in” and “out” groups:

  • Competition against each for client assignments and power.
  • Employees are drawn into conflicts and are forced to choose sides.
  • Employees ignore the formal rules in favor of unspoken political rules.

Who is an office politician?

Team Geek is a brilliant guide for developers on how to work well with others. Though the book is mainly for software engineers, all can find many universal patterns for working with other people. Chapter 5, called The Art of Organizational Manipulation, covers topics like corporate bureaucracies or manipulative techniques to get things done effectively.

The office politician may be difficult to spot when you first meet him because he tends to be very good at managing relationships and dealing with people […] He’s quick to blame others, but even quicker to steal credit when given the opportunity […] If he can’t use you or manipulate you, he’ll either ignore you or, if he sees you as a threat, try to undermine you. - Team Geek by Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman.

How to identify an office politician?

Interestingly, the more a person focuses on his goals and dreams, the more he might be eager to get into the political games.

Purists

  • Least political, they view hard work as the main method for achieving goals.
  • Tend to be trusting and sometimes even naive.
  • Tell the truth even if it reflects negatively on him.

Team players

  • Willing to use maneuvering to achieve team goals.
  • Occasionally makes use of friendly relationship with management to obtain additional resources for the team.
  • Focus on the achievements of the team, rather than on own successes.

Individualists

  • Negotiate work relationships for personal gain, rather than viewing hard work or teamwork as the key to success.
  • Usually distrustful of the motives of others.
  • The primary goal is the advancement of his career.

What if it’s me?

There are plenty of guides all over the internet on how to avoid such people, how to deal with politics at work. Such tutorials, however, assume that it’s not me who is maneuvering, but people around me. Also, I see myself somewhere between a team player and an individualist, which means I am susceptible to political games.

Understand the game.

Aspects, like studying people and their moves, improving soft skills, learning how to network, being aware of “the game” are important. Good politics include acceptable ways of getting recognition for your contributions, having your ideas taken seriously, and influencing what others think and what decisions they make. As long as it also serves a higher purpose, there is nothing wrong with advancing your interests. If you don’t learn it, your career will be shaped by those who are better at it.

Don’t become a political animal.

Bad politics are pretty easy to identify. It includes wrangling, sucking up, backstabbing, and rumor spreading to advance oneself at the expense of others. In other words, intentionally harming someone else for personal gain.

Links:

Team Geek

Dealing With Office Politics

6 Types of Office ‘Politicians’ and How to Handle Them

What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career as a Software Developer

7 Habits To Win In Office Politics

Playing Office Politics Without Selling Your Soul