The existence of office politics is a fact of life

I remember 24th February 1986 very well. Three days after my birthday, which I spent in upstate New York.  I could not travel home to Southern California at the end of a successful sales trip, the result of a snowstorm. However, the main reason I remember it so well is it was also the day I was let go from the last company I worked for before starting a succession of my own companies. It’s fair to say this is when I first began considering the personas involved in office politics.

I’ll spare you my admittedly biased view of that event, other than to say, I’d done an excellent job.  One I possibly may have done better. Whether or not that was true would determine how much my departure was due to office politics. Whatever the case here are three truths:

  • If you’ve worked in a company for just a few days, you’ve encountered office politics.
  • No matter your company’s business or the degree of its success, you’ve encountered office politics.
  • If you work with as few as one other human being, you’ve experienced office politics.

And here’s the rub. That will always be true no matter what your company says to the contrary. All the policies meant to reduce or eliminate office politics aside, its existence is a fact of business life, indeed, of being human.

The personas involved in office politics

There are many personas involved in office politics into which we all fall and here I set out just a few of them.

Should you think yourself above office politics, you’re not. You may not always know you’re politicking; often you won’t. However, you and all the rest of us are always, to varying degrees, one of these, sometimes two or three simultaneously.

There are important nuances to each; let’s consider them all in a little more depth.

1. Predators

In his or her nastiest form, a Predator is an individual, who, with great forethought and planning, purposely targets one or more Victims. S(he) will do or say what s(he) must to set events in motion that s(he) hopes will result in personal benefit to her/himself, even at significant cost to the company.

Fortunately, most Predators are not so to this extreme.  In many cases, a Predator doesn’t even have the desired outcome in mind. They simply say something about a potential Victim without thinking about what may happen as a result.

2. Enablers

As the name implies, Enablers enable Predators, to do all or part of what the Predator needs to be done. Why? Because they believe what the Predator tells them, because they believe supporting the Predator will benefit them, or simply out of fear that if they don’t the Predator will turn on them.

By definition, Predators initiate actions aimed at Victims but Enablers are ultimately just as culpable, often to the point of ensuring the Victim’s ultimate downfall.

3. Victims

The third of the personas of office, politics, not much beyond the name need be said. Victims are on the receiving end of office politics, at least in those cases that succeed. However not all do and when they don’t the Predator and his/her Enablers can become their Victims.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Predators will leave you alone as long as you’re doing what everyone sees to be a good job. Not only will they not your job performance might enlarge the target on your back.

If they fear you, if they can’t outcompete you, they may attempt to damage you in some other way. Or taking a less conspiratorial view, they simply may see things differently than you, believing what you are doing is not good for the company and certainly not good for them.

Office politics, the interpersonal dynamics within a workplace, can involve a range of personas, each with its motivations and behaviours. Here are some further distinct personas commonly involved in office politics:

4. The Networker

This persona excels in building relationships and is often seen engaging with different people across various levels in the organization. They are skilled in navigating the social landscape of the office and use their connections to influence decisions and gather information.

5. The Power Player

Often holding a position of authority, the Power Player uses their status and influence to impact decisions and outcomes. They are strategic, goal-oriented, and not afraid to wield their power to get what they want.

6. The Gossip

This persona thrives on sharing and collecting information, sometimes of a sensitive or personal nature. They are often at the centre of the grapevine and can influence office dynamics through the spread of rumours or insider knowledge.

7. The Team Player

The Team Player is focused on group success and often puts the team’s needs above personal ambition. They work well with others, often mediating conflicts and helping to foster a collaborative environment.

8. The Observer

More reserved, the Observer tends to stay out of the limelight, watching office dynamics from a distance. They are cautious and analytical, often understanding the underlying currents of office politics without actively participating.

Optimizing the keyphrase “office politics” involves understanding these personas and the dynamics they create. Strategies might include:

  • Promoting open communication to reduce the impact of negative gossip.
  • Encouraging team collaboration to balance out individual power plays.
  • Developing policies that recognize and reward positive networking, rather than manipulative behaviors.
  • Offering training or resources to help employees navigate office politics effectively.
  • Fostering a culture of transparency and fairness to mitigate the negative effects of office politics.

Surviving office politics

It’s quite easy; simply recognize the inevitability of office politics. Like smog, traffic, higher cost of living, etc., whether you work at someone else’s company or your own, you live with it. And here’s what may or may not be good news of that being so.

Calling it office politics might imply you must only deal with it at work. Not so; as already said, putting two humans together results in one consciously or otherwise attempting to manipulate, cajole, intimidate; at the very least, influence the other. It’s just who we are.

Don’t fear or expect to benefit from it but do question your reaction to others regardless of who they are and the circumstances surrounding your interaction with them. More importantly, do so, particularly in those situations where you are certain you are right, and the other person wrong.

Understand that whether you wish to or not, being human, you will, at varying times in different circumstances act as one of the personas of office politics, whether that be the Predator, Enabler, and/or Victim, both outside as well as in the office.

  • About the Author
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William Matthies founded Coyote Insight in 2000 to help start-ups as well as established companies and brands plan for profitable growth.

In 1986 he founded what was to become the largest independent market research/database marketing company in the consumer electronics and high tech fields. By the time he sold The Verity Group in 1997, the company employed 400+ people at its California and Costa Rica offices.

Today he serves on corporate advisory boards lecturing frequently at industry events around the world on managing change, strategic planning, and customer relations.

William’s spare time is spent seeking out experiences that change his perspective, while at the same time having great fun. A few years ago, he visited Russia for a Mach 2.5 flight in a MiG 25 supersonic aircraft flying to 80,000 feet, the edge of space. Want details? Contact him, he’ll be happy to tell you about it!