Politics? Yikes! Let’s talk about politics – at work!

Publication 15, Issue 5

I live outside of Washington, DC.  Here it seems we can’t escape politics, especially in an election year.  TV, blogs, radio…politics is unavoidable.  So I figured I’d write about it too!

Aristotle noted two thousand years ago that man is a political animal – that is to say we all engage in interactions that affect our own status in relation to others.  So it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you sit on – we are surrounded by politics even, and perhaps especially, in the workplace.  In some companies you can feel the competition as soon as you walk into the building; in other companies it’s pretty hidden; and in others, politics comes into play largely during stressful times – rough economies, downsizing, loss of market share, etc.

What are some of the signs that politics is affecting the work of an organization?

  • People are afraid to be open and honest – so there are a lot of water cooler conversations
  • Policies are slanted one way or another – which leaves things open for interpretation
  • Actions sometimes aren’t aligned with the words that people say – so an organization’s public face might not match its private face
  • Core values might just be words articulated on a website – and not truly “lived by” day-to-day

And what further adds to organizational politics is the way staff reacts to it.  In my opinion, there are two reasons why:

  1. Personal fear – people don’t want to get “chewed out” or have to “eat crow.”
  1. Professional fear – people don’t want to be written up or fired!

Organizations are collections of people, so inevitably there will be politics.  We make employment choices based in part on our comfort level with the impact politics has on us.  An organization’s political culture is bigger than you and me and sometimes it’s hard to navigate!  It’s the degree to which politics rules an organization’s people, policies, actions and beliefs and the way we respond to it that makes all the difference.

Here’s how each Playground Personality navigates through politics:

Peacemakers – say “yes” to every one so they don’t disappoint others and themselves, but wind up doing just that!

Organizers – focus on policy development in an effort to minimize the gray lines and then get twisted up in all sorts of checklists that no one wants to follow!

Revolutionaries – keep moving forward no matter what’s going on; they shoot from the hip and are perceived by staff as “clueless” which couldn’t be further from the truth!

Steamrollers – have a laser beam focus and say the same two or three things, no matter where they are or whom they are talking to – it keeps them grounded!

We’re not going to judge whether organization politics is good or bad or if there’s a positive or ugly side to politics.  You can draw your own conclusions.  My message here is to be aware of office politics and more importantly to be aware as a manager about how you respond to or ignore political pressures so you keep staff morale positive and the work productive.

Good luck!


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