Office Politics is a Four-Letter Word

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This week, I’m taking a hard look about office politics, that game everyone says they are playing — and blaming. You’d think that office politics was the root of all corporate evil and, in some instances, you’d be right. Office politics can be toxic in the workplace. Like in the following situations.

When office politics is used for power, not policy

Hey, if you get your thrills out of pulling off power plays on your coworkers, it is your choice. It just isn’t a very good one. Power plays simply turn your coworkers — or worse — against you. The probability of you getting support for anything other than your power play is slim to none.

Now, poor managers may let you get away with your fun little games, but that’s because they are poor managers. Your coworkers? They know you are just pulling a power play and they don’t appreciate it at all. At the appropriate time, you can count on your power plays backfiring on you at the least opportune moment.

When you blame office politics for your poor performance

How many people do you know who whine and gnash their teeth about getting screwed because of office politics? Happens all the time. How many of those people are really just poor performers and are blaming the politics? Look hard, now.

If you examine the reasons people are hired, one of the key reasons is the ability to fit in with the team and the manager. You may think you are getting screwed because you are not going along with group-think; it also means you don’t have the right social skills to make your point known, heard, and acted on. Before blaming the world for your problems at work — and there are many reasons to do so — make sure that your actions and behaviors are not making the situation worse.

Wrong people are selected to do work, of course. It happens. For some people, you’d think it happens all the time as some sort of conspiracy theory about your work. But there is a reason other people get the work and you don’t. You need to know what the reason is for getting passed over.

When people use office politics as a zero-sum game

Zero sum means if I win, you lose. Plus one, minus one, zero sum. If your belief about your work is that you must win and everyone else loses, you will always be on the wrong side of getting to what you want out of work. If climbing over other people’s backs is your idea of what it takes to get ahead, your corporate experience will be very different than one that thinks most people can win.

Do some people act this way? Yes. Do poor managers let people get away with acting this way? Yes. Would you do anything to help someone who had the outcome of making you lose so they could win? No.

Office politics is about effectively resolving issues

No one will have 50,000 employees agree on a course of action. It simply won’t happen. Successful people, Cubicle Warriors, understand that the workplace is filled with conflict; seen and unseen. They work with people to help achieve their goals and the goals of their coworkers.

When did office politics become a four-letter word for you?

  • I had a boss once who had brilliant ideas — two months after I brought it up. I never corrected it, never resented it — at least it got invented!

    Thanks for the comment; I appreciate it.

  • For innovation, many employees face surprising “Not Invented Here” barriers from other groups and individuals within their own company. Sometimes these corporate antibodies are expressions of office politics, with somebody seeking to advance their own career or budget at the expense of the good of the corporation. Can be a serious “innovation fatigue factor.”

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