Managing office politics

AUGUST 26, 2016
Managing office politics

Daily I have to handle inter-employee politics and problems – how can I curb this?  

The philosopher Plato said, "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors."

This holds true in today’s workplace: If you don't participate in the political game, you risk not having a say in what happens and allowing people with less experience, skill or knowledge to influence the decisions being made around you.

You cannot avoid office politics and the influence they have on business so saying “I refuse to play the game. I will rely on a job well done” will not serve you well. You don’t necessarily have to engage in office politics but you do need to see what is going on, know who the influencers are and understand the motives of those playing politics.

Traditionally, office politics has been seen as “all acts of intentional behaviour aimed at influencing and enhancing the self-interest of individuals or groups (C. Mahalingam, July 2013)”.

This is a somewhat negative view of what happens in the workplace. Imagine if we could accept the reality of office politics but redefine it as being about working with others in a way that is mutually respectful and beneficial. Consider the following elements of office relations:

  • Lead by example:if you are professional, helpful, positive and accepting of others you can develop good will in the office. Do not engage in gossip or moaning and you will soon have people talking to you about more interesting topic; topics that can serve the culture of your business rather than undermining it. If you manage staff, demand that they behave well too. Do not allow back-stabbing, stealing of ideas or obvious flattery with the intention of getting something. Reward and acknowledge people for tangibles, for an actual job well done. At all levels, encourage people to work towards the greater good of their organisation. This diffuses politics and focuses people’s attention on a common goal.
  • Know who the influencers are and what motivates them: there is a distinction between leaders and influencers. The latter do not necessarily have titles or hold senior positions. They are the ones that people listen to, who are able to shape their environment. If you understand them, you can manage how you interact with them; you can be wary of sharing too much with people who might take credit for your ideas or work or you can try to build relationships with people who have an audience with the decision makers. As a manager, look for ways to work with the influencers who do not engage in negative politicking. Position them as role models in your business and make it clear to all staff that they represent the way people should behave.
  • Be a leader and coach: it takes time and energy to guide people to a point where they can manage their own problems but it is worth the investment. If you solve people’s problems or play referee, you will always be roped into inter-employee politics and problems. The GROW model is a useful framework for this: facilitate a discussion with your staff about the goal (what your organisation is trying to achieve), then their current reality (stick to facts), the obstacles and options they have and, finally, the way forward. Do not tolerate commentary about personalities or moaning about others. Insist that people look forward, towards long-term, sustainable solutions. Do not provide the answers, but rather allow your staff the opportunity to bring solutions, to think for themselves. That way, they will develop a sense of ownership. They will eventually see that they can solve problems without you.