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Office politics

Surviving in your organization

First and foremost, every organization, regardless of its mission or industry, has some sort of politics that functions as an inhibitor of certain behaviors and a reward for others. While politics can sometimes contribute to efficiency, we generally focus on the negative aspects, as these can have a great impact on our careers.

The intent of this newsletter is to help you recognize the common forms of office politics and provide some sources for further information.

What can you do about it?

The important first steps are: to recognize that politics exists, and then to accept that how you handle situations can have a strong positive or negative impact on your career.

The next step is to step back and observe: What is your organization like? Are there bosses’ pets? An “inner group?” Or do people stay quiet, keep their heads down and don’t ask questions? There are many forms of organizational behavior that stem from politics.

Here are some of the most common:

Political challenges with your boss

  • The boss who holds you back
  • The boss who pits you against your colleagues
  • The control-freak boss
  • The boss’ pet
  • The disaffected boss

Political challenges with your colleagues

  • The hypercompetitive peer
  • The bully
  • The clique
  • The credit stealer
  • Managing a disgruntled former peer

Political challenges in your organization

  • Surviving the office outing
  • Lasting through layoffs

Source: “HBR Guide to Office Politics,” Karen Dillon, Harvard Business Review 2013.

A Tip

As you are observing the politics at work, it can be very helpful to use the technique of Mindfulness that I wrote about in my last email. Mindfulness can help you minimize your emotional responses so that they don’t hijack you when you are involved in these types of interactions and observations at work. This is your career, security and stability, and it’s easy to become reactive to events and situations that may pose a threat to these elements.

Mindfulness in this context suggests that you ask yourself questions like” What am I thinking?” and “How am I reacting/feeling with this situation?” “What is he/she doing?”

Okay – now what?

Gaining a clear understanding of a particular situation and not being bound up in emotional reactions can help a lot. You will discover within yourself different ways of handling situations that arise. This is the best way to “learn your way through” the situation.

As you are observing, it’s important to ask yourself what part you have in this situation, and what part others may play. We frequently are blind to our own roles. For example, “Did I challenge that person, in front of others?” And you can also ask yourself: “What is the other person’s point of view?”

The process of observation and identification may take some time, so don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t make sense at first.

Other sources:

Here are some interesting websites that are dedicated to navigating political issues within an organization:

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