Are you finding it difficult to deal with the politics in your office, your relationship, your family – or indeed with life in general? By politics in this context, I mean other peoples’ own goals, aspirations, motivations, prejudices and behaviour. We all want different things and depending on the situation – whether at work, or in a private or social situation – there will be professional and social conventions which suggest how we should behave.
At every age and stage of life, there will be politics at play – from the school yard to the retirement village – you can’t escape politics. So what can you do to read and navigate the politics in your life more effectively?
Interpreting the different behaviours in each situation requires you to use your emotional and intuitive intelligence. Expecting people to abide by what you might consider ‘right’ or ‘fair’ no longer applies – as everyone has different interpretation of these ideals; and as you are now dealing with other people’s egos and emotions, then logical and rational behaviour doesn’t usually apply either.
Know also that the behavioural conventions will differ in different circles – what is considered acceptable at work may not apply at home – and vice versa. So take some time to understand what is considered appropriate in each new situation. Being professional at work is a given – this means using appropriate behaviour at all times. It doesn’t mean everyone (or anyone) can be trusted with your thoughts on what is happening at any given time. Choose whom you confide in very carefully – if you want advice or have concerns, it is better to ask someone independent and who also doesn’t have any vested interest in the outcome.
In all new situations take time to observe the behaviours and protocols used by those ‘in charge’, or ‘in-the-know’. These give you guidance on what is or is not considered acceptable behaviour. Overlay your own values and take your cues from others if you’re not quite sure how to behave in a certain situation. At work this always means not wearing your heart on your sleeve or indulging in gossip. If you suspect that something isn’t right – that what people are saying doesn’t match how they behave, or they start to display values that are at odds with the conventions required; then you know that there are politics in play.
In a workplace for example, the organisational chart will only give you a clue of where the power resides – however often the reality may be quite different. It may take some time to discover your colleagues’ true motives – and sometimes you will never know. All you can do is watch and learn – and then modify your own behaviour to suit the outcome you desire or that is expected of you.
Sometimes politics aren’t easily spotted. It may not be until you take on a certain position or rank within a circle of people that you may become aware of the politics operating. Maybe you are now a potential threat to someone – and you now find yourself the target of some inappropriate behaviour. Sometimes the inappropriate behaviour is so subtle that you may only notice after the fact that an outcome has been manipulated.
Other times you are left in no doubt that you have been subject to someone trying to manipulate an outcome – whether it is through another person throwing a tantrum, becoming aggressive, issuing an ultimatum, or creating a scene or scenario that is designed to give them the outcome they desire.
Almost everyone I know says they don’t enjoy politics or game-playing; but they are a fact of life. Anywhere there are groups of people, you’ll find that at least one person with an agenda who is trying to manipulate the behaviour of others to suit themselves. Sometimes their tactics are subtle, other times not so subtle.
In a workplace, it may be that you are only becoming aware of office politics the higher you climb the corporate ladder. This is perhaps because when you were in lower management or one of a larger team – you weren’t an overt threat to anyone else; or it wasn’t possible to make you a scapegoat for someone else’s poor performance. However once you start climbing the ladder – this is when you may start to encounter a more sophisticated level of politics. It is fair to say that one of the attributes of a successful manager is their ability to read and react to office politics, and to be able to navigate them successfully to both their own and the organisation’s advantage.
It is now no longer good enough to have the technical ability to do your job – to be a successful manager you now need to also have well developed emotional IQ, intuitive IQ and have learned a number of lessons from the school of hard knocks. In short, you need street smarts more than book smarts! Which is really just another way of saying that you need situational awareness – which can often only be obtained through experience. The key difference is that people with situational awareness or street smarts know how to deal with ambiguity and can use their experience of similar situations to work out a more effective response. Those who lack experience or who have book smarts tend to put more credence on academic knowledge, where they often tend to look for a single solution that ‘should happen’ in a perfect world. Often their perception is that their knowledge will compensate for a lack of experience – sometimes it will, but often it won’t.
If politics aren’t your thing and you try to avoid them as much as possible – that is a great philosophy to have – but you will at least need to understand they exist so you know what to look out for and to avoid if required.
If you want some help to understand and navigate the politics in your life or workplace, then give me a call!