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* Why does it exist?
Politics came about as a way of handling intense competition. Generally, business itself is a competitive game ranging from simple tests of skill to full-blown battles. The game is driven by survival conditions induced by an expanding world market in which companies must continue to change and grow. There's a constant challenge to overwhelm opposition, reduce costs, and acquire additional resources. All of these attributes trickle down through ranks to cause individual battles for promotions, rewards, and recognition at all costs.
Another reason for office politics has to do with hierarchical structure of most organizations. The higher you advance, less room there is at top. As long as people battle for "corner office," workplace maneuvers will reign. This is where most intense battles occur and where most people find that they are stepped on or pushed aside.
Also, office politics occurs where personal matters are suppressed because they are seen as interfering with direction and good of corporation. Certain arrangements help to keep individual feelings out of corporations as well as prevent discussion of sensitive issues and denial of interpersonal conflict. However, since human beings are social beings, human needs appear in form of political conflict.
--- Surviving Corporate Games ---
Whether you decide to play or not, don't get caught in middle. If you become individual that battles politics, then you become scorned of organization. If you decide to stay out of it completely, then do your job and stay out. Those on other end of spectrum that play will respect your decision because that alone gives them less competition in their own battles.
One thing you'll notice is that no one will admit to playing games; however, that is part of secret of politics. You, on other hand, cannot confront anyone for playing games; however, you can identify games and learn how to manage them to suit your needs. Once you figure out how to do this, then your stress level will drop, and you'll be accepted in your environment.
* What do you want?
Before you can learn how to use these games to your advantage, you have to set a course and stick with it. This means determining what it is that you want out of your career. If you roam aimlessly through your career, then you'll get nowhere as you are a benefit to no one, including yourself. If you know what you want and are willing to work to get there, then people will take notice and begin working with you to get where you want to go. The objective of managing corporate games is to benefit those in charge and understand how to use available resources to your own benefit.
* Learning game.
People who dislike company politics usually associate it with backstabbing, taking credit for others' work, or getting by on personality rather than performance. For most part, these are standard characteristics of a political game. However, you don't have to play this way to make it in a political environment. To survive, for our purposes here, political game playing means developing good "people skills." It means contribution, diplomacy, collaboration, cooperation, and conducting a personal public relations campaign. Some of best ways to handle politics at this level are:
- Keep your eyes and ears open to everything that goes on around you. You can use this information to your own best interests. Listen more to what other people are saying and absorb what they mean.
- Learn how to communicate with others on all levels.
- Resolve disputes quickly and don't allow them to linger and spread. Conflicts interfere with production. Additionally, this will get you into rumor mill and eventually have you on same level as Jack-the-Ripper.
- Compromise positions and issues so that you end up in a win-win situation. You want to always leave other person with a piece of pie, if it benefits you.
- Be open and willing to admitting you're wrong. Holding out when you're wrong will only place you in a position of conflict and distrust by others.
- Take on leadership roles when possible. Demonstrate your abilities to lead and manage situations professionally.
- Be professionally assertive without being abrasive.
- Make "acquaintances" within organization. You don't want to have close friends, nor do you want to make enemies.
- Put corporate direction ahead of your own. Being part of a forward moving team that supports company is way to gain positive looks from inner-circle.
To accomplish your goals, you'll need to be very people-smart. Playing politics isn't necessarily bad. In fact, it's a key survival skill in most organizations. Many good corporate politicians are both likeable and effective---that's why they make it to top. Those who refuse to play or battle against politics may accomplish a lot, but they seldom last long because they don't fit into overall scheme and are seen as "trouble-makers."
--- What's next? ---
I'm sure that you've read one or more Dilbert cartoons by Scott Adams. They're very humorous, but what makes them humorous is that, for most part, they represent actual situations in an office environment. If you see any of his cartoons and don't somehow find humor, then you have a lot to learn. Regardless of where you go or what you do, politics in corporate culture exist.
Political decisions encourage many of situations that most people despise, including hypocrisy, secrecy, rumors, self-interests, image building, and cliques. However, politics will always be a part of organizations as long as people are involved---to be human is to be political. Whenever people's priorities, values, and interests diverge, some type of political ploy usually takes place. The amount of involvement you choose is entirely up to what you want out of your career.
Remember, it's not a "personal attack," it's a "political approach." If you learn your culture and consider that statement in your daily activities, your work environment can be more enjoyable and less stressful.
Edward B. Toupin is a published author living in The Entertainment Capital of the World. He authors books and articles covering employment to technical-related topics as well as performs technical writing for clients in Denver, Chicago, and New York. Edward consults and creates entirely from his home office in Las Vegas, NV and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.toupin.com.