The 3 Myths of Office Politics

by Jennifer Miller on July 12, 2011

in Office Politics

Whenever I facilitate a presentation or workshop on navigating office politics, I start off with the question, “When you hear the phrase ‘office politics’, what comes to mind?” Typical responses include:

  • Back-stabbing
  • People who are in it for themselves
  • “Run for the hills”
  • Slimy self-promotion
  • Favoritism

Does this line up with your thoughts about office politics? You’re certainly not alone. This line of thinking is representative of the majority of respondents.

In the workplace, the term “office politics” is often associated with negative behaviors. The website defines office politics as “the ways in which the people in a workplace relate to and behave towards each other, especially the ways in which people use the power and status they have.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with people who use power and status, but it’s the way in which they use it that gives office politics its bad name. It’s those “people behaving badly” when playing office politics that conjures up images of favoritism, greediness or selfishness. Can there possibly be an upside to being politically savvy? Indeed, there is. But first, you need to disabuse yourself of the following three myths.

  1. Office politics are the domain of toxic workplaces. True, but they’re also present in every organization, even those places with a great vibe. Face it— even the best places to work have an unspoken set of norms. People who quickly assess and learn to operate within those norms are the ones who get things done with the least amount of stress.
  2. All office “politicking” is inherently evil. Not necessarily. In fact, according to Gerald Ferris, a Professor at the University of Florida, and co-author of the book Political Skill at Work: “truly skillful execution of the behaviors associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective.”  The upshot: if you play office politics well, you won’t be called “political,” you’ll be called “good with people”.
  3. To be politically savvy, I’ll have to lower my ethical standards. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. According to research by the Political Skill at Work authors, the four competencies that demonstrate organizational political skill are: sincerity, networking, interpersonal influence and social astuteness.  These are all highly ethical and respectable behaviors, not the underhanded or unsavory ones often associated with office politics.

By releasing yourself of the mindset that all office politics is unsavory (and therefore to be avoided at all cost), you can free yourself up to focus on the ethical aspect of levering your influence in a positive way.  For people who take the high road and use their influence and communication skills to create value for their companies—and not just themselves— office politics can be a useful tool to have in one’s interpersonal toolbox.



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