How to engage in (healthy) organisational politics

By Heather Campbell

handshakeBy Heather Campbell >>

Let’s make one thing clear. If you ever say “I don’t play politics” and truly believe this statement, you are deluding yourself. How can I be so certain? Because good leaders engage in ‘healthy’ politics every day at work. Here are just some examples of healthy – and indeed intelligent – ways in which to play politics.

  • Build a network of people that you can bounce ideas off
  • Tailor your argument to fit your audience
  • Check out people’s opinions about a business proposal you have to make before you make it to the final decision-makers

The leader who doesn’t consciously take actions such as these is most likely blundering around their organisation causing all kinds of problems for themselves and their colleagues. Their lack of self-awareness and effective self-management will be a major hindrance to success.

Of course, what most people mean when they say they “don’t do politics” is that they avoid ‘unhealthy’ political actions like:

  • Agreeing with a decision during a meeting and then criticising it later
  • Undermining or ridiculing people (to their face or behind their backs)
  • Sulking because you don’t get your own way

These are certainly not effective political strategies so, if you recognise that you do any of these, stop doing them immediately because you’re damaging people’s trust in you. Once trust is gone, it’s just about impossible to rebuild!

On the other hand, people who don’t engage in politics at all are not going to make it to leadership positions; in fact, they’re probably highly ineffective – unless their job means they don’t interact with anyone else, ever.

Politics is a natural and healthy part of the way that humans interact with each other. It’s a core practice amongst influential and effective leaders who engage in healthy politics to get people to buy into their ideas, resolve conflict and get things done more quickly.

I’m sure you’re already using the three healthy political ploys outlined above, and if you want to be more influential, handle conflict better and increase productivity, here are three more to add to your toolkit:

  • Subtly remind people of the risks of not doing what you are recommending they do, as well as talking about the benefits of doing so – this will increase your influence because people are generally more influenced by fear of loss than they are by desire for gain
  • If people aren’t happy with something you have done, rather than simply giving in – or arguing back – ask what they would have preferred to have happen, and genuinely seek to understand their answer; you’ll find you will resolve conflict more quickly because you’ll take the heat out of the situation
  • Regularly catch people doing things right and acknowledge what they’ve done well – it’s so easy to ignore all the great actions people take, and tune-in only when we don’t like what they are doing

These actions are all common sense political moves and yet are too rarely found in business. Set yourself apart by engaging in healthy politics every day and notice how much easier your life becomes.

Image courtesy of smarnad /

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