With the general election coming up, the last few weeks have been a vivid reminder of why office politics has such a negative connotation: we have been subjected to empty rhetoric, empty promises, back-stabbing, meaningless jargon, false presentation of ‘facts’, popularity contests, and false personas intended to impress us. We have few examples in our governmental politics to inspire us to apply real politics when it comes to our workplace.
Yet the word politics comes from the Greek and Latin words meaning ‘affecting all the citizens of the state’ – it is neutral not negative, and simply means that what you do or say or legislate has an effect on the members of the whole group.
Since our politicians don’t generally seem ready to consider the possibility of setting us an example of how to make that effect positive and inspiring, maybe it’s time for us in our organisations to set them the example!
We all do engage in office politics whether we are conscious of it or not. We all have an impact on others in the group, through our behaviour and actions. These may be the small everyday impacts: being in a good or bad mood, and affecting others with its effect; or it may be the decisions we make as leaders: introducing a shared service because it will cost less, at least in the short-term.
We all have the power to change the connotation of office politics by choosing to behave in ways that demonstrate a genuine intention of having a positive impact on those around us.
POSITIVE OFFICE POLITICS
Firstly, let’s demonstrate the values that are supposed to be underlying our behaviour at work: words like trust, respect, ethics, transparency, fairness, come to mind. Most organisations would claim that they intend to apply these values, so let’s take them at their word. It doesn’t require a lot of thinking through: just consider how you would like to be treated by others and apply it to the way you treat those around you. This on its own will change the way we impact on others to the good, and will set a differed tone to office politics.
Then let’s just add a couple of simple questions to our preparations when we are about to act or make a decision. The questions are: ‘Who will this have an impact on?’ And ‘How can I ensure that the impact is as positive as possible?’ I know that sometimes we have to make difficult decisions, but that doesn’t mean that we should just ignore their impact. It is always possible to alleviate the negative impact in some way, if only by being honest about it, and helping them to cope with it – isn’t that what we would want someone else to do for us? And don’t forget that we may have seen a benefit to someone of a decision we make that they don’t get immediately, so we need to explain that as well.
Finally, let’s stop trying to prove ourselves or compete with others. If we all behaved in ways that have a positive impact, then we all benefit, because others will be behaving like that with you. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you succeeded by being someone who treated others well, and being yourself instead of by putting energy into trying to outwit and outdo others?
This simple change applies whether you are considering a restructure or just whether to send an email. Each time your actions or behaviour involves others; you are playing politics, so play it well. Isn’t it time we had some positive example of office politics where the common good was to the fore?