Workplace Politics – The Use and Misuse of Power

Politics simply refers to the dynamics and struggles for power. Most relationships involve some kind of back-and-forth play for power. Unfortunately politics is a significant player in nearly every organization. Human beings are political and social animals. This is a reality: man cannot live without politics. Most people will likely have experienced at some point what it is like to be employed by a company where there is a high level of politics.


Although we have been able to keep political maneuvering out of our own business, that is not the case for some of the larger organizations that we are engaged with. The bigger the organization the bigger the politics become. Some may argue that corporate politics are inevitable. I don’t completely disagree. But I do feel that you can limit your role in these games and minimize their influence on your performance and position by being proactive.

The aim of manipulation in the workplace is not always increased pay or a promotion. Often, the goal may simply be greater power or control for its own end. Politics in the workplace can get vicious. I have seen persons engage in company politics to influence and propel their rise through the ‘ranks’. I have seen where politics are used in the workplace to put persons that may be deemed a threat or, even simply in a case of dislike, through the door; and I have seen where the unfair players receive undeserved recognition and reward.

Nowadays it seems that anything ending with the word “politics” will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, and the unfortunate truth is that no matter how hard we try we cannot escape its invasive presence. Corporate politics is no laughing matter. A dysfunctional work environment makes for unhappy employees and lowered productivity. As a leader, you must learn to recognize the face of office politics, in its many forms, and find effective ways to keep your work environment a happy and healthy one.

Negative organizational politics hampers creativity, productivity, fairness, motivation, teamwork, and a host other critical issues that almost everybody knows but is not allowed to speak about in the official hierarchy. There are two different types, good and bad. Whichever one you choose to participate in is solely up to you. First you must distinguish between the two.

Bad politics consist of:

  • Delaying and withholding needed information
  • Creating scenarios that make others look bad or set them up for failure
  • Taking credit when it is not deserved and or discrediting the efforts of others
  • Not delivering on promises made or denying the legitimate requests of others for your benefit
  • Giving false support or advice in order to serve your own agenda

Good politics consist of:

  • Insure the success of others even when it does not benefit you
  • Building trust through consistency and understanding
  • Don’t wear a mask and try to be a “different person” depending on the situations
  • Be open-minded and flexible
  • Avoid hidden agendas and be transparent

How often have we heard the phrase “power corrupts”? Actually, power only corrupts when it is used for self-serving ends. Often mangers and leaders become “intoxicated” by the increased power that their position gives them. If you are in the Power Position, realize that your actions have consequences for people other than yourself.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Winston Churchill

People of bad character are certain to put their best foot forward when dealing with superiors or peers. They are especially careful to say and do the right thing. They typically get away with their bad behavior because they dismiss followers’ complaints as a minority of “whiners” and “chronic complainers”.

Even though politics are a natural part of human life, its negative effects can be diminished by powerful leadership and transparency throughout the company. If you’re going to have integrity and form strong relationships, you have to use your political relationships for the good of the company, not for your own benefit. The more you’re seen as operating ethically, the more your word is your bond, the more people can count on you.

It is very important to hold firm to one’s values and refuse to be caught up in malicious gossip or slandering other colleagues. Be ethical. No matter what, heed the ethical voice you have inside. It’s paramount. Violate your ethical standards and you will always lose in the political game – maybe not immediately, but eventually you will lose. By maintaining your standards, you may make some colleagues temporarily uncomfortable, but violate your ethics and you will make permanent enemies. Do your own job well. Respect ultimately earns you more points in the corporate political game.

Jamie Wood, Avatel EVP


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