Playing Office Politics

Office Politics. Ewwwwwwww, you say, thinking of those smarmy, lying, back-stabbing, kiss-up, brown-nosing, schmoozing manipulators who play the game by one rule and just one rule…I WIN, YOU LOSE. Right? Not surprising.

Art by Jill Stanek

In its very worst connotation, office politics represents influence and power gone awry. I anticipate that many of us have experienced bad office politics via a two-faced someone operating on the “dark side of the force” and have a favorite horror story to tell.While it’s a lofty dream to hope that someday all leaders will play from a win-win perspective, that’s unfortunately not the reality in many workplaces. The plain truth is that office politics are here to stay; and, based on a fascinating study done by the University of Florida, can be played ‘nice.’

Nice? The study revealed that adept leaders do politics competently – and nicely – and are never accused of playing politics.

In 2005, University of Florida Professor Gerald R. Ferris, Research Scientist Sherry L. Davidson, and Professor Pamela L. Perrewe co-authored Political Skills at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness, which was the culmination of more than 15 years of research into office politics.

Their findings?

If you have political skill, you appear not to have it,” says Gerald Ferris. “Truly skillful execution of the behaviors associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective. Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity. Leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving.

Any time there are scarce resources, competing interests and ambiguity (sound like most work places?), office politics will exist. The key to success is playing with a win-win orientation versus an” I win-you lose” mindset.

Championing a cause, seeking budget for additional headcount, inspiring an up-and-comer on your team, persuading your boss to let you lead the special project – occur regularly in our jobs and require influence, relationships and social awareness to execute.

Office politics is the art of building relationships that will help you and your team accomplish more than you could on your own. ~Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D, Manager’s Desktop Consultant

A year ago, Mike Henry, Susan Mazza, Jennifer V. Miller and I partnered to produce a month-long four-part blog seriesaddressing the competencies needed for leaders to play “Positive Office Politics.”

Given the ongoing relevance and reality of office politics, we’re repeating the four-part series this week beginning tomorrow.



6 Responses to Playing Office Politics

  1. Brilliant! I introduce the notion of ‘office politics’, which usually gets a groan from clients, as being very sexy. That gets them listening.

    And your post highlights exactly what I mean… a win-win-win-win framework. A win for the individual, a win for the other, a win for the department/community and a win for the organisation/world.


  2. Pingback: Office Politics CAN Be Positive | The People Equation

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  4. Pingback: Sincerity and Office Politics | Lead Change Group

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