The term ‘workplace politics’ comes with a negative connotation – and rightfully so, it’s a nasty game. But unless human nature suddenly changes, workplace politics will continue to be the reality we must deal with.
Like it or not, there is a fair amount of political maneuvering going on in your workplace. You can try to put a stop to it. You may enjoy success, but it will only be temporary. Instead, consider confronting reality on your terms. Workplace politics is a reality. You can deny it or play it. But if you play it, be politically savvy and play to win.
Make the Scapegoat Work for You
Of all the forms of workplace politics we could cite, they all come down to one of two fundamental objectives:
- An employee trying to get ahead
- An employee trying to avoid fault
Both of these objects require an enemy or an obstacle. Either the enemy can or will be defeated by the workplace politician, thus ensuring their advancement. Or the enemy is responsible for the fault, thus clearing the employee of wrong-doing.
In either case, the enemy or the obstacle is a scapegoat. The scapegoat is most likely a real threat or problem, however, it has taken on unreal proportions. Creating scapegoats is a psychological need that all people share. However, it is more prevalent in weaker people than in leaders.
As a leader, don’t let your employees create a scapegoat you will not be able to manage. Instead, work with them to identify the ‘enemy’ or the ‘obstacle’ that you will be able to control and use to your advantage.
Recruiting Allies – The Power of ‘We’
Any good political battle is won by a team, not an individual. There is an easy way to get more people on your side, and it only requires a little attention placed on your rhetoric. Use the pronouns ‘we’, ‘us’, and ‘our’ instead of ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’.
There are different levels of this tactic. Level One simply involves rewording a statement. For example, ‘I need to talk to you’ becomes ‘We need to talk.’ There is not a lot gained with this rewording, but it is a simple starting point and can be good practice for mastering levels Two and Three.
In Level Two all ownership is shared. For example, ‘I closed the deal,’ becomes ‘We closed the deal’ or ‘I wasn’t able to finish the task’ becomes ‘We weren’t able to finish the task.’ The first example, sharing the credit, will be a lot easier for your colleagues or employees to get on board with than the second example, sharing the blame. However, if this is a consistent rhetorical choice you make, then it can only be accepted collectively.
The Third Level is where the rhetorical change is so obvious to appear ridiculous. However, once you have mastered levels One and Two, your intent should be clear to everyone and Level Three is merely just an extension or reinforcement of that intent.
Form a Winning Alliance – Delegate
We’ve all heard the well-trodded adage ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself.’ That may work fine in a punctual situation, but if done continuously, it will lead to isolation and ultimately to defeat.
Instead, identify the strengths of your colleagues or employees, and especially identify the role they are longing to fulfill:
- What attributes and skills do they relish in utilizing?
- What types of tasks do they enjoy doing?
- In what ways do they feel like they are being under-utilized?
Once you’ve identified these skills, attributes, and roles in your workplace, you should have quite a diversity of skills and roles at your disposal. By frequently soliciting your colleagues and employees to demonstrate their skills and attributes, not only will you improve efficiency, but you will gain allies.
Workplace politics is a fact of life. Denying it exists will not get us anywhere. Instead, we should identify the motivating factors and the objects that are at play. Then, we can make them work to our advantage.
Workplace politics always boils down to people either wanting to get ahead or people wanting to avoid fault. Both objects, in and of themselves, are good and healthy. Play workplace politics to win. Understand the objectives, and give your colleagues or employees the arms to achieve those objectives in a non-destructive mutually beneficial way.
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