Thursday, 13 December 2012

OFFICE POLITICS, Be smart and Informed

Consider this scenario from a modern work place in our day to day career life.
*Names are fiction.
It is 10:36 AM. A group of workers are chatting during a tea break. “As from tomorrow the director said that all the submissions from the field work entries on sales shall be submitted before noon and failure to do so will be met by a disciplinary action, which might mean getting fired.” , said Husna who every one dreads due to her usual cutting remarks and ‘close connections’ with the company director. And she continues, “On top of that, all entries must be typed and printed and must be on a paper which has the company’s letter head”. 
From the following day, almost everyone complied with the ‘new rules of operations’ from the director. What they did not know is that the director said none of the ‘new rules’. Husna just came up with the rules and knowing that the director is a harsh no-nonsense man, took advantage of it to holistically lie to everyone to her advantage. Initially it was her work to receive the entries as written by field officers on their data collection sheets, type them and have them with a company letter head, file them in accordance to departments and dates of submission and present the whole work to the director at the end of the month. Why am I giving this imaginary scenario that replays itself so often in our work places? Read on….

An Office Session. Office Politics are rife in modern work places

Work related politics can at times be so hot and intense that they either build our career or ruin it. First let us look at some of the reasons that why people engage into work related politics.

This is the major reason why work related politics thrive in our modern work places. Regardless of the number of employees in the organization, there are always those people who wish to control their colleagues in what they do. They desire for power and domination whether they are in power or not. Consider the scenario above, Husna desired to have the others do what she thinks will make her work easier and out of that desire, she lied to her fellows in order to dominate over them.
Some people whenever they see others abiding to their words, they feel satisfied and in power regardless whether they deserve the position or not. The desire to control is an element that is all over the world but it is unfortunate that at times the ones in control at times do not deserve the power hence they always resort to manipulation and exploitation of human minds. 

For some people gaining promotion is so important to them such that it creates competition between individuals or misalignment between the team's objectives and those of individuals within it.  Some people will seek promotion by showing to everyone that they can out-perform their colleagues and they will do what it takes to appear smart. At times stiff competition may bring animosity between individuals and resentment may creep in noticed or unnoticed, some people even cheat in order to appear smarter than others. The competition may involve job performance, public speaking, mode of dressing, certifications, influence, close ties to the overall management etc. The whole issue involved here is very tricky and at times may make some people get fired or simply resign and seek jobs where competition is less stiff.

Some people care passionately about decisions at work and this encourages political behavior as they seek to get their way. A decision that is taken in a team may appear to be the strongest decision from several viable decisions and while the process of decision making is underway, some form of competition may be evident as people try to make their point of view appear more important that that of others. It is easy to conclude that the weakest decisions are left out while the strongest ones are accepted. While trying to make a point go through, some people will do what it takes, including lying, coercing people, manipulating people, bribing the top officials, shouting, gossiping, etc, to make sure their point emerges at the top. Consider the scenario above.

At times personal factors can influence office politics. Some people want a certain decision to go through not because it is of much help to them but have a personal reason why they wish it that way. It works in their favor. Personal factors that may encourage office politics include but are not limited to; office romance,[a future article shall talk about office romance], further/ evening studies, personal business investments, relationships and marriage etc. So whenever there seems to be a thriving office political scene, look beyond what you do in the office and you will at times know that the person involved had other motives too e.g. some people may influence the company to be buying their raw materials from a certain dealer knowing too well they have a share there. Do you see my point?
At times what is going on with someone’s personal life may be reflected in work politics. Some people are notorious in bringing in their house hold rules into work places and will treat everyone like they treat their spouse or their children.

At times the teams are competing for the available limited resources or newly acquired resources. This can lead to a kind of "tribal conflict" where teams compete to satisfy their needs and objectives, even when this is against the greater good. When teams or people in work place are competing for resources, at times the most ‘political’ person or group gets the resource at the expense of the others. This is a major problem to large organizations where managing all resources is very difficult and at times corruption emerges in the ranks as people scramble for resources and this may also involve embezzlement of funds.


Listen more and carefully
When you spend more time listening, you are less likely to say something that will come back to haunt and bite you later. Also, people like people who listen to them.

Make the Most of Your Network
As you build your relationships, you need to learn to use them to stay clear of negative politicking, and also to promote yourself and your team positively. It is up to you to communicate your own and your team's abilities and successes to the right people, and you do this through positive political action. Use your network to:
  • Gain access to information.
  • Build visibility of your achievements.
  • Improve difficult relationships.
  • Attract opportunities where you can to shine.
  • Seek out ways to make yourself, your team and your boss look good.
Neutralize Negative Play
Your mapping of the informal spheres of influence in the organization will have helped you to identify those people who use others for their own purposes, and not necessarily for the common good. It's natural to want to distance yourself from these people as much as possible. But what can often be needed is the opposite reaction. The expression, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" applies perfectly to office politics.
  • Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be extremely careful what you say to them.
  • Understand what motivates these people and what their goals are, and so learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking.
  • Be aware that these people typically don't think much of their talents (that's why they rely on aggressive politicking to get ahead). Often times, they are worried about their own performance and influence, and are insecure with their abilities and weaknesses.
  • Be exceptionally good with your work and refine your talents and abilities. Seek to improve your knowledge and skills through constant learning. This will make you shine regardless of whether you go telling people what you can do or not.
Govern Your Own Behavior
Through observation you'll learn what works in your organization's culture and what doesn't. Watch other people at work and identify successful behaviors that you can model. There are also some general standards to observe that will stop negative politics from spreading.
  • Don't pass on gossip, questionable judgments, spread rumors – when you hear something, take a day to consider how much credibility it has.
  • Rise above interpersonal conflicts – do not get sucked into arguments.
  • Maintain your integrity at all times – always remain professional, and always remember the organization's interests.
  • Be positive – avoid whining and complaining.
  • Be confident and assertive but not aggressive.
  • When voicing objections or criticism, make sure you take an organizational perspective not a personal one.
  • Don't rely on confidentiality – assume things will be disclosed and so decide what you should reveal accordingly.
  • Be a model of integrity to your team, and discourage politics within it.
Related Articles in this blog:

  1. Important People in Work Places
  2. Difficult People in Work Places 
  3. Getting and Developing an Innovative Mind  

Have a good day.


Anthony Kiarie Kihara 
Data Manager 
Mombasa Community Based Home Care

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