Office politics are a much maligned necessity of any professional environment. Yet, success in business can be attributed, in part, to shrewd political workings. Navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of office politics is repugnant to some, second nature to others. Exploring the concept of office politics from the ground up will provide new insights.
An article in the Harvard Business Review highlights the work of psychologist Robert Hogan. He theorizes that three main basic needs underpin office politics:
- To get along with colleagues
- To move ahead in a career
- The need to find meaning in work
The Need to Get Along: Networking
The very people you engage in firm politics may be the best ones to build relationships with. These individuals can be advocates when it comes to achieving a promotion or heading up a new initiative. Building trust and goodwill with those around you will not only help in the advancement of your career, it may also help you avoid being the victim of a political maneuver. From Business Insider:
“Think of office politics as networking within your own company. It’s about lowering barriers between hierarchical levels to foster communication and develop connections with people above and below you…”
On the flip side, don’t ignore those who may engage in bad politicking. The saying “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” can be very true here, but by building a relationship with them, you may discover their reasons may not be malignant.
Further, as with investing, diversification among the individuals and networks in which you operate can result in better outcomes. Assess your current network: do your relationships cut across industries, job levels, even departments within your own organization?
The Need to Get Ahead: Sponsorship
Talented and hardworking professionals may get passed over for a promotion because they are not as skilled at managing the political climate in the office. Having a sponsor in your corner, as opposed to a mentor, can make a world of difference. While a mentor is someone who provides career advice and gives guidance, a sponsor gets out there and advocates for you. Not only can they advocate for promotion, but they can help navigate the climate of an organization. You, in turn, make them look good by proving them right.
The Need to Find Meaning: Diplomacy
Many can agree that politics, while necessary, can be harmful at times. A toxic political climate can pull the morale of employees down, decreasing their ability to see meaning in their work. If the only way up is through relationships and not through performance, they may feel as though they have no control over the situation. In this case, it is up to the leaders of organizations to set the example for a positive environment, as well as staying above the fray. In addition, how leaders motivate employees matters. Again, from the Harvard Business Review:
“…they avoid pitting employees against one another and instead focus on out-performing common adversaries: the company’s competitors. They do this through articulating a meaningful mission — a vision that resonates and motivates people to achieve a collective goal.”
Mastering office politics requires understanding people’s motivations and personalities while still developing trust and goodwill between yourself and others. Humans are political animals; accept that office politics are inherent and learn the “game.” As Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotions.”