Politics is an inevitable feature of organisational life when you realise that the various definitions all lead to the behaviours people use when they seek to influence. These definitions are neutral when it comes to intent or agenda, so those with the best interests of the organisation at the core of their being will be political, as well as the more Machiavellian characters. The actual difference in the way it plays out is in the level of deceit and damage caused to those around. So, unless you work in an organisation where nobody is trying to influence people, you’ll need to come to terms with how politics works and how you can engage proactively (and hopefully authentically) so you can protect your Influencing Goal.
Time does not permit us to do other than cover the basic principles, but the Resources section will point you to more specific coverage of this specific topic.
To manage the politics, firstly you’ve got to see it and understand it. Knowing the tactics that people could use, or are using, is critical before you decide how to respond. In our book 21 Dirty Tricks at Work, we helped people to come to grips with the reality by exploring tactics such as:
- Fall Guy/The Patsy: Assigning projects or tasks that are destined to fail to an expendable manager so that they can be blamed for the failure or to reassign favoured employees away from reputation-threatening failure.
- Rock and a Hard Place: Manipulating people by offering limited or fixed choices, expecting the victim to choose the lesser of two evils.
- Tell Me More: The tactic of delaying decisions or honest disclosure by requesting more work, research or data which often includes the efforts of others.
- My Hands are Tied: Pretending to be helpless due to the influence of a higher authority or process when, under the same circumstances but with a different person, there would be a different outcome; “Sorry, Ben, but the policy is…”
- Here are more examples of Dirty Tricks and Office Politics..
There are many more in the book, and even more in our catalogue, but the important thing to realise is that these are likely to be happening around your stakeholder community in various forms. So try to think about other specific tactics which you see happening. This really helps build awareness and if you want to discuss it with a friend, so much the better!
You may also notice that these are somewhat tactical in nature. If you really want to get to grips with bigger political strategies which people use — or fall into — have a good read of our other book Political Dilemmas at Work. In here, you will learn about Consultants Rule, Home Alone, Power Vacuum and many more.
Once you’ve recognised exactly what is going on, the next step is deciding what to do about it. It is a complex subject which requires more than just a few pages to explore, so here are some ideas for you based on my experience of working with people of integrity, helping them to succeed in highly tense political environments:
- Keep your emotions under control, manage your fear, and look for the facts.
- Consider the big picture.
- Offer ways forward/ways out.
- Put out fires and build bridges.
- Walk in their shoes.
- Take some time to think.
- Look for positive intent.
- Ask them what they want!
- Don’t fight every battle.
But whatever you do, don’t ignore or avoid reality; otherwise, it will catch you out — and probably at your most vulnerable moment!
So now it is up to you to decide how to engage with each stakeholder. There are no rights or wrongs, but some approaches are more likely to get the result you want. It is also true that any engagement is probably better than no engagement. My advice to you now is to make some clear decisions about how you can engage, then see what happens and adjust as you go.