Most people think that office politics is bad for business. Nothing could be further from the truth. Office politics are an integral part of getting things done, regardless of whether you're the CEO, a salesperson, or an intern working over the summer.
The word "politics" comes from the Greek politikos which means "of, for, or relating to citizens." Far from being something negative, it is the art and science of influencing people when there are more than two people involved.
This post describes a four-step approach to office politics that doesn't resort to tricks or deception (aka "dirty politics," which IS bad for business.)
Playing politics consists of balancing the needs of multiple people so that they can come together to make a decision. In business, there are four general types of needs:
Once you understand your own needs (on various levels) and the needs of other people involved, you're ready to play some politics.
Office politics consists of making deals where you'll support the satisfying of the other person's needs in return for that person's support for satisfying your needs. In theory this is a simple concept, but in practice there are infinite variations. Kinda like sex.
For example, if you've got a colleague who wants to be "head programmer" and you want to be "manager of quality control," you'd tell the colleague: "I'll support the idea of you becoming 'head programmer' if you'll support the idea of me becoming 'manager of quality control.'"
As you can see, the keys to making an alliance work well are 1) figuring out what you want, and 2) figuring what the other person wants, and 3) agreeing to get there together. I'll refrain from the sex analogy this time.
Great care must be taken in the building of alliances. As a general rule, you want to work with people who can be trusted both to hold up their side of the deal, and also can be trusted to do the right thing by the rest of the firm.
For example, you probably don't want to make a deal that involves promoting a complete idiot to be "head programmer," at least, not if you want your firm to succeed. However, if all things considered it really doesn't matter all that much whether Jack or Jill gets the promotion, it's okay to make a deal with Jill that puts Jack out of the picture.
And so much the better if you're certain that Jill is the better choice.
In addition to alliances, politics consist of the less formal trading of favors. It's a simple concept: you do a favor for somebody else and then, at a later date, you get to "call in" the favor by asking that person to do something for you.
And vice versa, naturally.
Playing office politics therefore requires that you keep close track of 1) whom you owe and about how much, and 2) who owes you and about how much.
Knowing the first keeps you from being blindsided by unexpected requests. Knowing the second allows you to assess how whether or not you've got the political power to achieve your goal, if politics is needed to achieve it.
It need hardly be said that trading favors is a great way to strengthen your alliances.
In addition, there's usually some negotiation involved in assessing the value of favors past versus the value of favors in the future. No biggie, just be aware that everyone has their own "tally book" that might not agree 100% with yours.
All of this effort comes to fruition when it's decision-making time. Your goal is to make certain (as far as possible) that everybody is supporting the decision you prefer, through the use of your alliances and favor-trading.
For example, suppose your firm has a choice between two software vendors and you're certain that vendor "A" is the right choice, but you're aware that some of the misguided dunderheads you work with believe that vendor "B" is a better option.
When the big meeting to decide which vendor to hire takes place, you want as many people possible at the conference room table pre-disposed to agree with you that the company should go with vendor "A."
It could be argued that such decisions should be made based simply upon the merits of each vendor's product. Maybe so, but that's not the way the world works.
Office politics makes certain that the right decision gets made, even when it's maybe for the wrong reasons. And that's always better than making the wrong decision for the right reasons. Right?
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