It's difficult to avoid office politics, but there are ways to manage it and promote a more positive working culture. HR consultant Kate Marchant explains negative/positive office politics and how business leaders and managers can encourage a healthy and productive workplace.
We have all heard of office politics, but what on earth do we mean by this? According to the Oxford dictionary, office politics refers to: “actions and behaviours involving competition for status or power in the workplace”. Simply put, you could call it a battle of egos!
What are negative office politics?
Office politics is often associated with negative behaviours, such as backstabbing, forming malicious allegiances against other colleagues, withholding important information, or maybe spreading rumours about a co-worker. Whichever one it is, the mention of office politics is generally served with a dish of gritted teeth!
Many people have difficulties navigating their way through this minefield and, often, it can be all consuming and waste huge amounts of time – especially if you are stuck in the middle of a power struggle. It is also worth stating that there is often a fine line between what can be described as office politics and bullying behaviour, as some of the behaviours associated may be interpreted as bullying.
Can office politics ever be positive?
Taking all of the above into account, can office politics ever be positive? Probably not, but there are ways in which office politics can be used positively without compromising your own values or those of the organisation. Being a champion for ‘good’ politics can help further your own, and your team’s, interests in a fair way. However, it is also important to be alert to any bad politics and come up with your own strategies to avoid them.
It’s also worthwhile remembering that office politics exist because people bring their own personalities, emotions, needs, ambitions and insecurities to the workplace as they strive to be successful in their own right, whilst trying to establish who holds the power.
5 tips for managing office politics
How do you actually turn these negative politics into something more positive? Here are a few thoughts around this…
1. Review the organisation’s structure chart
Examine and analyse the structure and then observe what happens in reality. Aim to establish: who has the most influence? Who has the most authority? Who is the glue holding things together? Who are the brains behind the business? Who do people respect the most?
2. Internal networks
Once you have established who has the power and influence, take a look at what happens on a day to day basis. How do people interact with each other? How do they build relationships and what are these based upon? How do they communicate with each other?
3. Emotional intelligence
Always reflect on your own emotions and behaviours and learn how to handle them in a measured way, especially in your dealings with others. This will help you to pick up on other people’s emotions so you can understand the type of approach they prefer.
4. Personal brand and team profile
Through your own relationships, you will be able to develop your personal brand and the profile of your team. Let people know about any achievements, but stay humble and don’t brag! In the event you face challenge around achievements, always be accountable for your actions.
5. Have courage
Call people out when you witness bad behaviour. Don’t join in the negativity and remain professional – if you have managed to raise your own profile and personal brand, it may well influence others to behave in a similar way and actually work towards stifling bad behaviours.
Learn more: Misconduct at work: a guide for employers
How to deal with negative office politics
The level and toxicity of office politics can vary drastically from one workplace to another. It is possible to address things in a positive way to attempt to move away from the negativity. However, there are times when things can get really tough and a coping strategy is a good thing to have in your back pocket to help you through difficult times. Give the following a go:
- Remember you have choices – just breathe, pause, and take some time to consider alternative responses to a situation/person.
- Remember your core values – responses that align with your core values will make you feel better immediately.
- Remember to learn – reflect on things and take any learnings you can apply if a similar situation presents itself in the future. This is far more positive than visiting the old favourite: hindsight.
- Remember to do what you think is right – this often takes courage, especially when it feels risky. But remember – you will never regret doing the right thing!
To conclude, there is definitely no right or wrong way to handle office politics. How you handle it is very much down to personal choice, based on your own values and beliefs.
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Written by Kate Marchant
Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.