Office Politics 101

Office politics, and for that matter the word “politics”, tend to conjure up a less than positive image for most people.  Pictures of unfair deals, bad decisions and icky people are many of the thoughts that come to mind when we speak of anything with a political orientation to it.  It’s understandable, especially this year as we are hit with a daily barrage of political ads and news.

However, it’s important to understand what office politics really consists of before drawing those judgments, because office politics is how things work.  You can ignore it and suffer the consequences, do it the slimy way where a body count is taken, or do it well which benefits you and others.  In its simplest form, office politics is about building relationships in order to achieve some kind of end result.  It’s how things get done and it’s done 100% of the time on all jobs.  For those who think engaging in office politics is something they simply won’t stoop to, they’re already wrong; because you can’t avoid it so long as you work with others.

Here is the ingredient list for office politics:

Who’s who.   When you start your job the first thing you do is figure out who everyone is and what their role is.  The reason you do this is because your job is a daily assembly line of giving and taking information with a variety of people.  Your ability to be successful is dependent on others in a very big way.

Who knows what.  This is where office politics start.  You eventually learn that there are certain people who not only know work things at a detailed level, but are keen observers of human behavior.  They know how things really work.  Understand that we picked this up as cavemen as a survival technique.  Who you know does matter to your survival.

Goals.  Every job has various goals, and on top of that we have our own goals we’d like to accomplish within the framework of our job.  Perhaps we want to be successful, to earn a great pay increase or to get a promotion.  It could be that this job is simply a stop over to other things; but you still want to be perceived as getting the job done.  We all have goals.

Who wields the power & influence.  Power is an interesting thing.  We can be given position power like managing a group, but power also comes from other more informal sources within any group.  You can have power based on the information you posses, charismatic power because people like you and support you, or prominence power like a celebrity.  Power and influence emerge in groups in order to get people to take action toward some goal.

It is at this point where politics can be negative, because of people who are using power and influence to selfishly advance their own goals, largely at the exclusion of others.  This exclusion is what becomes unfair and noticeable.  On the other hand, when power and influence are exercised and it benefits the business and those in a work group, it can be a seriously positive thing.  It is usually this type of outcome that isn’t seen as office politics because we tend to think of office politics in negative terms.  Yet, it is the very same mechanics that was put into play.

Office politics, whether for positive or negative outcomes, is how things get done in businesses.  Politics exist wherever you have any number of people pulled together in a group, because we are constantly working with people to achieve some end result.  Your ultimate career success depends on how well you can make office politics work for you.  Hopefully you’ll succeed with “Positive Office Politics”.

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