If you don’t do politics at work


In every organisation, every employee comes to the table with their personal goals, egos, aspirations and agendas, and in order for someone to get what they want, there is always going to be some level of compromise, negotiation and politicking.

Workplace politics is the manifestation of power dynamics among co-workers. People leverage these power dynamics to further their own interests or that of a group they are affiliated with.

Such behaviour is inevitable, given that human beings are naturally political and will do whatever it takes to protect their own interests.


Where this starts to become problematic is when personal motivations are not aligned with those of the company.

Some people describe workplace politics using words are commonly negative: “Toxic,” “frustrating,” “dangerous,” “demotivating,” “draining,” “unfair,” “unnecessary,” “cliques,” and “gossip” almost always rise to the surface.

The fact that these are the words we associate with workplace politics explains why this first myth is so prevalent.


How could any of us possibly engage in things that are widely seen as toxic and dangerous, or at the very least unethical and unpleasant, if we are not ourselves toxic, dangerous, unethical and unpleasant?

This myth is premised on an incomplete and one-sided understanding of what workplace politics really are.

Though workplace politics can be used both ethically and unethically, at their core they are just the range of informal, unofficial and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts that happen in all organisations as people position themselves, their interests, their teams, and their priorities to get things done.

By painting all political activities with the same brush, we are oblivious to the potential for constructive politics — that is, the range of perfectly ethical and appropriate activities that serve to strengthen relationships of support, expand influence, and build a powerful base that allows you and your team to be more effective.

Oftentimes we hear someone say, or perhaps even find ourselves saying, “I don’t do politics. My work should speak for itself.”

Well, we can’t let our work speak for us; work doesn’t speak. Since it is people that speak, we need to speak about our work, and we need other people to speak about it too.

However, “speaking about our work” doesn’t mean reciting a laundry list of things that we are doing. Instead, it’s about framing what we are doing in terms of the impact it’s having on the organisation and why it matters.

Many of us have a deeply held view that talent and hard work should be all that one needs to succeed. Well, what lies at the heart of this belief is that so many of us treat work like school.

When we are at school, it is generally given that if we work hard and master the subject material, we will get good marks and proceed to the next level.

In the workplace though, thinking like this is a risk and a mistake because the reality at work is that invisible contributions have no value.

Now, let us look at what we can do to ease ourselves into playing “workplace politics” well. We need to reframe what “politics” means to us. We need to start to be aware of our language and how it is framing our reality, specifically how it frames the way we understand the work environment and how we choose to show up in it.

Clearly, we tend to put more energy into something we see — and label — as positive and important, than into those things we begrudge or don’t see the point of doing.

We need to evaluate our style against your organization’s political environment. It’s almost never about the activity itself, but rather the intention behind the activity and the interpretation and judgement we attach to both.

Clearly, we tend to put more energy into something we see — and label — as positive and important, than into those things we begrudge or don’t see the point of doing.

Let us always remember that doing politics on our own terms, with a clear-eyed view of how to be effective without sacrificing our values, will not only benefit us but so too those colleagues and stakeholders who are counting on us to do the best job we can.

All of us play some form of politics and getting better at the version that we want to play is critical to our career success and our personal wellbeing. Because it really is true — if you don’t do politics, politics will do you.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker