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OPINION-Winning workplace politics and political plastic surgery


In any organization that you will be working for, you will find politics whether you like it or not. By their very nature, we acknowledge that all organizations are political and that it is a competitive world out there. Workplace politics is the process and behavior that in human interactions involves power and authority.

It is well known that the vast majority of people in organizations want to do good work, to be of service, and to benefit in turn. But they are frequently frustrated or sabotaged by unhelpful politics and abuses of power.

The downsides of politics in the office result in the draining of focus, energy, and commitment from the organization. The power struggles and negative politics bring down big and successful organizations. Here, therefore, we have two sides of a coin namely, the negative and positive politics.

A clear organizational structure specifying roles for each worker, a clear mission, vision, and objects of the company aligned with the individual compass, understanding of personalities and capabilities, and talents of the employees cultivates a good culture of positive politics in an organization.

Politics Is Not a Dirty Word

We are all continuously engaged in political transactions throughout the normal course of every workday. The process itself is neither good nor bad, but simply a fact of life—and the morality of the outcome is determined entirely by the motives and goals of the players.

The political side of work quickly becomes apparent as soon as we take our first job. To succeed, do outstanding and try to deal with bad bosses and annoying co-workers. Colleagues get defensive when we point out their mistakes, unscrupulous rivals try to stab us in the back, and managers make decisions that seem totally unfair—or completely idiotic.

At times most of the employees want a promotion, to get their projects moved up the priority list, bypass normal procedures, receive more recognition, and get things done despite challenges. Making yourself known in appropriate ways is simply smart and therefore requires a political strategy that will reverse the negative opinions held by your co-workers and your boss to shift their perceptions and succeed towards that end.

Winning this game means acquiring the political power necessary to accomplish the goals that matter to you. Autonomy, security, responsibility, skill development, challenge, and interesting work are a few of the other rewards that people often hope to find through their jobs.

Positive politics are behaviors that are designed to influence others with the goal of helping both the organization and the person playing the politics. Examples of positive politics include portraying a professional image, publicizing one’s accomplishments, volunteering, and complimenting others.

On the other hand, organizational politics can increase efficiency, form interpersonal relationships, expedite change, and profit the organization and its members simultaneously.

Both individuals and groups may engage in office politics which can be highly destructive, as people focus on personal gains at the expense of the organization. “Self-serving political actions can negatively influence our social groupings, cooperation, information sharing, and many other organizational functions Psychologist Oliver James identifies the dark triadic personality traits (psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism) as of central significance in understanding office politics (Wikipedia)

The Reed Report from 2002 estimated the cost at about £8bn for the UK based just on the time spent dealing with issues around power and politics. It did not factor in the cost of lost customers, canceled contracts, damage to reputation, loss of morale, and the talent drain.

Difference between wishes and goals

When we are having problems at work, we often think in terms of wishes, not goals. Wishing is a passive activity that can easily degenerate into whining and complaining. Goals, on the other hand, help to define the actions we need to take.

The more time we spend wishing, the less time we spend actually accomplishing anything. Fortunately, our wishes usually contain hints of our political objectives.

Your organizational language can betray your lack of faith in the long-term strategy. People talk more and more about ‘quick wins’ and ‘low-hanging fruit’ and are frequently rewarded and appreciated when they do so.

The problem with culture and unwritten rules: If you recruit and nurture the top talents in our industry please ensure that they direct their time, energy, and talent into doing good work instead of ‘playing the game’.

The bad politics and the political types

“The fall guy trick” is in most cases used by bad managers. This is about assigning projects or tasks that are destined to fail to an expendable manager so that they can be blamed for the failure, and/or to reassign favored employees away from reputation-threatening failure.

Projects in organizations fail all the time; it’s a fact. Sometimes they fail due to incompetence, lack of resources, internal politicking, competitor activity, or other mitigating circumstances. But how the organization reacts and manages this difficult situation is critical and tells us a lot about the true corporate values.

Insist, Resist, and Persist No matter what anyone says, insist to yourself that what you want is already yours. Constantly daydream and visualize yourself basking in the glory of success! Resist the temptation to give up on your dreams when challenges hit hard in the face.

Martyrs try to help their organizations but at a high personal cost to themselves. They usually wind up feeling unappreciated and resentful, an attitude that eventually bleeds over into their interactions with others, no matter how they may try to hide it. And some of them don’t try to hide it at all. Eventually, Martyrs burn out, either personally or professionally.

Sociopaths are interested only in their own needs, wants, and desires. Their self-centered fixation on personal goals damages their organizations, but they don’t care about that and in the short-run Sociopaths can look like political winners. However, their self-centeredness almost always limits their long-term success.

Dimwits exhibit behavior that is both self-destructive and harmful to the organization. Their actions seem to be driven by psychological needs over which they have little control.

Winners are people whose behavior at work contributes to both business and personal success. I believe that these are the folks who succeed at office politics, especially in the long run.

The Facts of Life in a Workplace

You probably can’t change your boss, so you need to figure out what you can do to manage this relationship more intelligently. The politically intelligent people have many options for increasing their leverage as follows;

(1) The power of results: Delivering results that make your organization more competitive, effective, or efficient is guaranteed to increase leverage, particularly if you manage to amaze or delight key decision-makers in the process. The more dramatic the results you produce, the more leverage you will acquire.

(2) The power of knowledge: Developing impressive expertise in your work, no matter what job you hold, will cause people to view you as a source of information and a valuable resource. Customer service reps, for example, acquire a great deal of data about customer challenges and preferences.

(3) The power of attitude: The Power of Attitude is particularly evident in the way people react to adversity, so even if you feel cheated, overlooked, or unappreciated, try to keep your negative emotional reactions to yourself. When you have concerns, strive to address them in a calm and professional manner. Dumping all your true feelings on people is a guaranteed leverage killer.

(4) The power of empathy: If you are always willing to listen and help people figure out what to do, you earn trust and get leverage boosters. Of course, you do have to keep any confidence to yourself. Sharing secrets is one way to ensure that eventually, no one will trust you.

(5) The power of networks: Your network is simply the sum total of all the people you can call on for information, assistance, or advice—and this “relationship power” is available to everyone in unlimited supply. The more connections you have, both inside and outside your organization, the greater your ability to get things done and therefore the higher your leverage

(6) Involving others in your decisions, activities, and projects can increase support and produce better outcomes through teamwork and building bridges horizontally to demolish silos that discourage cross-functional relationships.

Political suicide

If you want to commit political suicide, simply start engaging in any behavior that consumes a disproportionate share of management’s time and attention. Managers have limited tolerance for anyone who becomes an energy drain. Before long, you will be viewed as The Problem. And becoming The Problem is the kiss of death.

Career destruction: There are four common causes of career destruction:

(1) poorly controlled emotions;

(2) a victim mentality;

(3) self-centered goals; and

(4) foolish reactions to change.

Titus Kinoti is an author and motivational speaker

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