The business and corporate world is all about competition. Everyone (at your organisation) is competing for budgets, resources, opportunities to work on more exciting projects, more important customers or roles, promotions, prestige, recognition, bigger salaries, and of course, power. Simply put, you cannot survive the typical business arena without playing a little office politics.
Man is by nature a political animal, says Aristotle, and it is therefore not out of place for politics to exist within any group of people – even within a family. As long as there are differences in personality, ambitions, needs, and opinions within an organisation, office politics will always come into play. Furthermore, the fact that some people will always have more power than others, and as a result, will seek to influence people’s choices, means that politics will exist – even in the most friendly and supportive of organisations. It is thus in your best interest and that of your team to get involved in office politics so that you can influence fairly the decisions that collectively affect you.
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For a better understanding of this discussion, I will proceed to categorize people who work in most organisations into two main teams, the Formalists and the Players.
These are the ones who have no interest in office politics and only want to focus on their work; they work hard and diligently in the belief that they will succeed purely on their merits. They follow laid down rules and regulations, and only respect organisational hierarchies. These set of people are naïve and oftentimes passed over for promotions and taken advantage of.
Players are usually politically savvy. They understand that getting to the top of the career ladder is not just about hard work, and that the unwritten rules of office politics are just as important as the official rules and regulations of the organisation. They recognize that decisions are not black and white, and that decision makers have both personal as well as professional buttons that need to be pressed. They may not be the best at their jobs, but will always go higher and faster over their formalist colleagues.
So the next time you hear of office politics, don’t just picture the dirty side of it such as sucking up to people, spreading rumors, manipulation, and backstabbing. See it as an opportunity to learn how to press the right buttons to influence people effectively.
Smart people appreciate that lobbying is an essential part of organisational success”
Dr. Rob Yeung
Jane Horan, author of I Wish I’d Known That Earlier in My Career: the Power of Positive Workplace Politics, defined positive politics as the "building coalitions for the good of the organisation” without sacrificing integrity or values. She defines being political savvy as “being aware of the unwritten rules of operating inside organisations, embracing the political nature of organisational life, and having the skills and intuition to navigate successfully”. You can purchase her book here
Still not convinced about joining your politically savvy colleagues? Here’s 4 reasons why you should partake in office politics.
So, “stay woke”.