‘Office Politics’ – the majority of people have negative associations with this term. I’m going to help you:

  • understand what it is
  • why it happens
  • know when it’s happening to you
  • deal with it positively to support your career progression and your overall happiness at work.

What is ‘Office Politics’?

It’s almost impossible to have a complete absence of ‘Office Politics’.

Wherever people come together, they will always be capable of misinterpreting one another’s behaviour, primarily because each individual has their own set of beliefs, assumptions, experiences and goals which inform their thinking and interpretation of the world around them.

When ‘Office Politics’ is negative, it causes a lot of conflict, far more than personality clashes and competition for resources. ‘Office Politics’ is a major cause of stress in the UK workplace. The result of conflict and stress has many potential outcomes including: decreased productivity; slow decision making; low team retention levels and; falling behind the competition, as internal knowledge sharing is so limited.

Why does negative ‘Office Politics’ occur?

Primarily, negative ‘Office Politics’ occurs when individuals will do whatever it takes to pursue their own goals, whatever the cost to others.

Often, it is the formal processes of an organisation that compel people to find other ways to achieve what they want to. It is not an organisation itself which is political but the people and their response to an organisation and its processes. To read more about this sort of behaviour, click here.

Essentially, people’s perceptions of motives are key when deciding whether the politics they are experiencing are positive or negative.

‘Office Politics’ is more positive when people are aware of the potential impact of their behaviour.

This means they will be more transparent and aim to achieve a beneficial outcome for others and at the very least not create a negative outcome for others.

When this is happening, organisations achieve more, there is greater cohesion and importantly a better working environment where individuals aren’t desperate to leave.

Fundamentally, most people believe they are not political and that it is everyone else. However, do we always see the truth i.e. the fact and the motive as they really are? The danger comes when we react to what we think we see. You can read more about that here.

Signs you are experiencing the effects of negative ‘Office Politics’

As an individual, if you are feeling blocked and your career isn’t progressing as you would like, negative ‘Office Politics’ could be at least part of the reason. To consider how negatively political you organisation is, click here.

Of course there could be other reasons such as key skills and capabilities you need to work on to be able to progress – political intelligence amongst them.

Opting out of politics is unfortunately not an option if you want to progress from where you are at the moment. You need to understand it, master it, and deal with it.

Navigating ‘Office Politics’ – some top tips

There are many potential skills to work through to become more politically intelligent – none of them are rocket science but often people forget to put them into practice.

At an overall level, they fit into four categories:

  1. Communication
  2. Influencing
  3. Networking
  4. Factor X.

The latter one groups lot of skills together that don’t fit into the other categories but which will help you navigate ‘Office Politics’ positively.

I spend a lot of time with my clients helping them understand which skills they need to improve and how to do that. As a quick win today, here are some of my top tips to help you get started on mastering ‘Office Politics’:

  • Build relationships with individuals in influential positions.
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve and work to achieve buy-in from others.
  • Build your visibility across the organisation. You may like to read more about PIE theory here.
  • Adapt your behaviour to different situations and people, as appropriate.
  • Support others where possible/relevant
  • Build strong arguments for what you are putting forward/support.

Further help and advice

These are overall positive political behaviours but of course each individual has their specifics to work on.

If you need to navigate ‘Office Politics’ more positively or get your team to do so, I can run a diagnostic so that individuals understand how they are currently operating politically and how they could be being perceived. We can then tailor action to improve work relationships and the overall effectiveness of a team or organisation. To find out more about the diagnostic, contact me.

To begin with, I really recommend you sign up for my series of the Nine Neglected Skills needed for Career Success. By the time you have worked through them and put any actions into play, you will have a better idea about what you or your team need help with:

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“I decided to seek Joanna’s help following some setbacks with key relationships at work last year.

I have had four political intelligence and personal impact sessions, coached and guided by Joanna, and I learned so much. Joanna provided practical examples and advice on how to tackle some key relationships with my work colleagues and key stakeholders. I have started implementing my agreed actions with Joanna and have experienced some positive results. I immensely enjoyed the sessions, and would thoroughly recommend Joanna.”

Anonymous, Head of Actuarial Reporting, Healthcare

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