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Using Organizational Politics to Your Advantage

All organizations are political places. What do we mean by that?

Organizational politics involve power: Who gets what they want, how they get it and when they get it. Anyone who uses the informal network of an organization to get things done is using organizational politics. 

Examples of healthy organizational politics in action

Jose is a department manager in a large insurance organization. He needs to get an approval for a budget overrun in his area this quarter. He notices that on Monday morning his boss looks a little stressed; there is a lot going on and he lets the staff meeting come and go without bringing up his request. He brings the issue to his boss on Tuesday when he sees she is in a better mood.  

Martha works in a retail store. She only sees her boss every few weeks, but she has a network of fellow department managers. When she has a question or concern, she prefers to run things by one of the other department heads because she hates to bother her boss or make it look like she doesn’t have all the answers.  In return, of course, she does what she can to help them out when one of them needs assistance.  

Both of these people are managing their image. They’re using organizational politics to do it--not in the sneaky, manipulative sense of the word, but in the healthy, positive sense. Jose chooses not to bring a delicate budget request to his boss when he sees she’s already stressed. Martha utilizes her network of fellow managers in a give-and-take manner rather than bother her boss in a way that might make it look like she didn’t know what she was doing. We all do it; there isn’t an organization out there that doesn’t have its political side. We need to become aware of organizational politics and use it to our advantage.

Learn how to be political in a positive way

All organizations have a political side. In addition to the two examples above (knowing the right times to approach people for favors, and tapping into a wide network of colleagues), some of the ways you can learn to be more political may be to:

  • Volunteer for high-profile tasks.
  • Get your accomplishments written up in the company newsletter.
  • Send a note of congratulations to a boss, peer or superior who receives a promotion or has success in a project.
  • Call a peer, boss or superior you have not spoken with in a while and invite that person to lunch. 

Here are four helpful tips about organizational politics:

Form alliances: As in the example with Martha, don’t try to go it alone. Alliances with others will be your key to success.  

Negotiate: Do favors for people, but also ask for things in return. Don’t be a pushover. Keep track of your political “bank account”—bear in mind that there are deposits and withdrawals.  

Be careful: Sometimes forming alliances and doing things for people can backfire. You may find yourself allied with the wrong people. Observe carefully, especially if you’re new to the organization. Does your alliance appear to be among the powerful ones? Are these people respected? When they speak in meetings, are they listened to? Do their agendas seem to be pushed through? Do you find yourself doing more favors for the same people all the time, yet strangely they’re unavailable when you need something? Make sure you’re not taken advantage of.

Be ethical: Be honest. Trust others, but be scrupulously trustworthy yourself. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t trade gossip, no matter how tempting it may be. Never undercut your boss in public or private—it will get back to her! Just remember—you won’t get ahead by sabotaging your colleagues—instead rise on your own efforts.