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Influence Matters 2: Office Politics: A Necessary Evil?


Thu Mar 16 2017

Influence Matters 2: Office Politics: A Necessary Evil?

Workplace politics makes people angry, or at least frustrated. Politics gets in the way of the work, creating delays, disagreements, and bad feelings.

It is hard to pin down exactly what workplace politics is, partly because the term means different things to different people. We made a valiant attempt at codifying the mayhem back in 2005 with 21 Dirty Tricks at Work. Since then, I’ve concluded that the majority view office politics as any act in pursuit of personal gain, especially where manipulation or dishonesty is involved.


To most people I speak with, it evokes the feeling that it is either a necessary evil, or a complete waste of their time. All the game playing, positioning, and subterfuge simply gets in the way of doing a good job.

What do you think? Necessary evil, or waste of time?

If you think either of these, or worse, both, you’ve got a problem, and potentially a big one. That you hold one of these notions in your mind hands a big advantage to the game player, the manipulator, and those who don’t give a damn about their colleagues.


Because it is likely you will not engage with the politics, or do so reluctantly. You will leave it too late, be unprepared, and get completely out-maneuvered by your opponent. Yes, I know you’re supposed to be working for the same side, but it doesn’t feel like that, does it?


Now, I’m not suggesting that you should join in and move over to the dark side, but what you do need to do is embrace it. It is never going away. It will always be a feature of your working day, so get focused on doing something about it.

I’ve presented a lot of webinars on this topic, which has led me to several simple suggestions to help you begin to harness the positive potential of office politics.

  • Study the subject and work out what office politics is, and what it is not. To me, it is the personal decision-making processes individuals are using to meet their needs.

  • Work out how your current position helps or hinders you and your work. If you’re frustrated by not being able to defend yourself, or you are unable to get decisions to stick, that has a negative impact on your results—and your motivation.

  • Get curious about it. Become the office detective. Seriously, curious people enjoy finding things out, and the biggest advantage office politicians have over you is that you don’t know what they know.

  • Rediscover your sense of integrity. Getting curious doesn’t mean throwing away all your ethics and sense of fair play. But, what most people lack is a sense of where they stand when it comes to these types of activities. If you feel uncomfortable engaging with the politics, you’ll be beaten, and it will hurt. Or, more likely, you won’t even try to do something about it.

  • Get yourself motivated. You must decide that you are no longer going to tolerate being on the receiving end of the game players, and become determined to learn how to do it well, with your integrity intact.

Getting good at handling the politics to your advantage pays, big time. You’ll not only deliver superb results for your organization, but also develop your career faster.

Ensuring that you maintain your integrity and sense of fair play also helps. In fact, Harvard Business Review reported many years ago that one of the five characteristics of high-potential CEO candidates was having a reputation for playing the politics fairly.

This is Colin’s second article in the Influence Matters series. The first was “Resolving Personality Clashes.”


Editor’s Note: If you would like to find out more about how you can develop your political skills in a positive way, you can register for Colin’s Workplace Politics Resource Center, which is packed with practical tips and ideas to help you succeed.

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