How to Deal With Politics in The Workplace

I make every effort to avoid politics whenever possible. I don’t consider myself to be a highly political person, but I always aim to play fairly and have faith that other people will try to do the right thing.

Unfortunately, this mentality is very naive.

Politics is very much a part of everyday life, whether we like it or not.

A great friend of mine always tells me the same, ‘I fully support your view that we should be able to ignore politics, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case’. And he always reminds me of a quote, which sums it up quite well, ‘just because you claim to be a vegetarian, do not believe that the lion will not eat you’. 

Politically speaking, I am a vegetarian, and yes it is true that I have been attacked by many lions, and occasionally eaten.

I do believe that there are good politics and bad politics, and I look to try and participate in good politics only, but here I still think this is me trying to be a better vegetarian, hoping that the lion won’t still eat me. But this is still me being naive.

One of the best ways to combat politics is to have a very strong network, this can be beneficial in several ways: it can give you early warning of any politicking being done against you, giving you time to react; it can also be a source of great support in fighting politicking against you.

Ultimately to be successful: we need to master politics, that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to become backstabbers ourselves, but we need to be able to protect ourselves from back stabbings; and we also need to understand where and how decisions are made.

I have been a member of a large number of committees which were the top decision making body throughout my career, but I can tell you, many of the most important decisions were made outside of those committee rooms.

They were sometimes made on the golf course, in the bar in the early hours, or over a small dinner with only a handful of participants.

Often the committees I was a member of only served to be the place where decisions were communicated, rather than made. Sure there may have been a vote, but often this was just a hollow process, looking to follow agreed protocol.

To be truly successful we need to understand how decisions are made in our organisations, where does the real power lie, which groups do we need to be part of in order to be at least involved in the key discussions.

Sometimes these groups are closed and very difficult to break into, and if we are not successful in joining them, we will only have limited success in defeating them.

When dealing with politics, I am not suggesting we should fight dirty, but I am saying that we need to be prepared for a dirty fight, we shouldn’t assume that our opponents will fight fairly.

If we understand and accept this it will help us be better prepared. You don’t need to be a lion to defeat a lion, but it does help.

In one company I worked in we were looking to choose between 3 software packages. The IBM solution was without doubt the best, it was the fastest, cheapest and most scalable, which were the three criteria we were basing the decision upon. I had prepared an excellent presentation, and was looking forward to presenting and winning the vote.

When the meeting was held, I was informed that we had a very tight agenda and there would be no time for me to present, but given that everyone had read the presentation, which was very clear and easy to understand, we could skip straight to the vote.

To cut a long story short, we didn’t choose the IBM solution, nor did we choose the 2nd best option, but we chose the third option, which was bottom on all categories. The voting was something like 2-0-9, which was practically unanimous. The chairman said, given we had a clear winner, there was no need for further discussion, and we could just record the decision and move on.

Given that we had such a strong case, and a clear presentation I didn’t do the lobbying with the other committee members to ensure I would be successful, I thought it was a clear cut case.

One of my colleagues, whom shall remain nameless, who had supported the third placed product had done a great deal of lobbying and had told people that the results I was presenting were biased and inaccurate, and should be ignored. They hadn’t said that that I was faking the results, it was more that I didn’t fully understand the topic and had been misled by the vendor, which then filled people with doubt.

Given the size of the defeat there was no opportunity to re-open the discussion, I just had to accept it.

This was a case of the vegetarian being eaten by a toothless lion!

I’d made the mistake of believing that being right and having clear facts, would win the day.

I didn’t take politics into account, and I paid the price.

These are tough lessons to learn, but we need to learn from them, because being right, or having the best idea, is no guarantee of success.

I am not suggesting that we should do the same, and look to promote second rate ideas, or taking underhand actions in order to get lessor solutions accepted.

No, I’m suggesting that when we have the best solution we need to ensure that we do what needs to be done to protect that solution and ensure that decisions are based on merit rather than politics.

If we just hope that will happen, then we are being naive, and we are just serving up a tasty treat to the lion.

Have you ever been the victim of politics? If so what form did it take?

If you want to learn more about creating highly engaged teams or being a better leader click the link to make an appointment to talk about how I can help.