3 Dealing with internal politics
If you work in any organisation, the issue of internal politics (sometimes referred to as office or workplace politics) is unavoidable. It can be defined in various ways, but basically relates to the actions and behaviours of those competing for status or power in the workplace.
Office politics exist for a range of reasons:
- Individuals and teams are often competing for limited resources and use a range of tactics to influence those in charge of the finances.
- Some individuals are seeking promotion and want to be viewed as better than their colleagues.
- People are committed to their project or department and want to promote it at every opportunity, particularly in front of senior managers.
- People with strong moral or ethical views will seek to share those views and can be dismissive of those who don’t agree.
- Different personality types also play a part – with those who are more confident and vocal frustrating others who prefer a quieter, more measured approach.
It can take up a lot of your time and energy, but when you are leading a team, you need to involve yourself in the political discourse of your organisation, as otherwise your team might miss out on much needed resources or profile.
So how do you deal with these issues with minimum expenditure of time and energy?
- Be a part of several networks, so you aren’t seen as taking sides.
- Work out where the real power lies and align yourself with those individuals.
- If senior managers need your help with something, prioritise that.
- Don’t gossip and don’t rely on promises of confidentiality unless you know you can trust someone.
- Don’t be afraid to give timely, appropriate and constructive feedback to senior staff.
- Know what you are trying to achieve and be ready to articulate why that is best for the organisation.
- Listen – the more information and knowledge you can gain about the organisation, the better you’ll be at aligning your priorities with those of other departments. A collaborative approach is often viewed positively by senior managers.
Professor Jean Hartley explains the importance of mobilising people outside your own team to support your goals.
Activity 4 What would you do?
Reputation plays a key part in office politics. If you are well regarded, people are more inclined to support you, collaborate with you, share funding etc. The decisions you make can impact on how you are perceived, even if they seem relatively small and insignificant.
Consider the following scenarios and decide what you would prioritise
1. You’re in your office and an email comes in from your manager. It is marked urgent and requires your immediate attention. At the same time, a colleague puts their head around your office door to say that your manager’s boss has been on the phone and wants you to call them back as soon as possible. What do you do?
Phone the more senior manager back straight away, your boss can wait
Read your manager’s email before you call their boss – it might contain relevant information
Deal with your manager’s email first – they said it was urgent and you’ve no idea what the senior manager could want from you anyway
The correct answer is b.
Answer: Read your manager’s email before you call their boss – it might contain relevant information.
Prioritise your response to the senior manager, but if you have time to quickly view your boss’s email, that could provide you with information that will enhance your phone call.
2. You’re in a meeting and you have a really important point to make, but you know it contradicts a senior manager at the meeting and their boss is also attending. What do you do?
Keep quiet but discuss it with the senior manager after the meeting
Make your point in a constructive and polite manner
Keep quiet and never make your point – you don’t want to make enemies
The correct answer is b.
Answer: Question 2 is a more difficult question to give a clear answer to. The textbook answer would be: Make your point in a constructive and polite manner.
A good leader should respond positively to constructive criticism and disagreement. You don’t know what the more senior leader’s view is either – they may agree with you. At the very least, by making a reasoned and articulate point, the other staff in the meeting will gain a favourable impression of you.
CAUTION: Do you have a senior manager who would see your comment as a challenge and react badly? You learned about emotional intelligence in Weeks 3 and 4, and this is a situation that will require it!
Understanding the context and the mood of the individuals around you will be very valuable in this scenario. If you know what you hope to get from the action, it may also help you to decide what to do. For example, if you know your senior manager is under stress and you’re waiting for them to sign off a budget increase for your department, you may choose to prioritise that and opt for option a. On the other hand, if you have been struggling to make your senior manager see your point of view on a particular topic, gaining support from around the table could help you to change their mind.