“Playing office politics”
“I want nothing to do with office politics,” a 43-year old man who was frustrated with his job, adamantly told me recently. “I come to work every day and do a good, honest job. That should be enough. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem.”
Actually, it’s his problem. And until this man and anyone else who hates office politics accepts that office politics are unavoidable when you have three or more people in an organization, they will be saintly, but helpless victims.
Rule Number One in the game of office politics: “Deal with the way things are, not the way you think they ought to be or want them to be.” Refusing to understand this cruel reality, according to Michael Dobson and Deborah Dobson, authors of Enlightened Office Politics (Amacom), is not only unwise, but won’t help you live the principled, ethical way you do want to be at work. Plus, you’ll end up suffering, possibly failing, unnecessarily.
It is possible to play politics and be principled and ethical. Of course, there are unprincipled players in the world of office politics and tactics that are downright immoral. But you don’t have to be a manipulative swine.
To play office politics the right way–the principled way–first you have to understand it, they say.
They define politics as: “The informal and sometimes emotion-driven process of allocating limited resources and working out goals, decisions and actions in an environment of people with different and competing interests and personalities.”
Bottom line, “people don’t check their humanity at the door when they punch in on the time clock.” There are also only so many people and so much money to go around. So everyone is competing to get the resources to accomplish their goals. Add to that the competition for personal status that’s at stake, and the kid gloves come off.
Still, office politics is a vehicle to achieve your goals. “It’s the ultimate arena in which the necessary decision will be made and consensus achieved,” they say.
To play, you need power–which is not unethical. Power accomplishes work. Using a car as an analogy, the authors say, “You need gasoline to power your car. How you get the gasoline is an ethical choice: You can buy it or you can steal it. How you drive the car is an ethical choice: You can drive safely or disregard the rules of the road.”
You can gain political power–without losing your soul by:
Committing to principled behavior–at the core–being reliable, honest and professional
Committing to the goals of the organization–even at the cost of your short-term advancement and success
Having the skills and drive to advance those goals within the bounds of good character
You must also do things that you probably dislike, including:
Showing respect for the opinions and goals of enemies–people with whom you have nothing in common and a bad relationship. This isn’t agreeing with them. It’s recognizing their opinions as seriously held beliefs–not merely a cover for another motive.
“To acquire and use your power effectively, you have to respect and be aware of the power of others. You have to understand where it comes from, deal with it, work with it, defend yourself from it and use it,” say the Dobsons.
Acting in a trustworthy and honest way, even if your enemy doesn’t. This builds respect, which is power you get from the opinions others hold about you.
The book lists 40 rules of the game. But don’t think you’ll become a master politician or that you’ll ever know everything. Every day at the office will bring a new lesson. Do, though, commit this to memory: Politics is about people. People have selfish interests and egos that need to be recognized and stroked. They have different personalities. This isn’t bad, it just is. You can either work with that or against it.