How to Stay Safe in a Corporate Political Jungle

Why Office Politics Causes Problems – and How to Avoid It

In nature, a group of Wild Dogs go hunting to find sustenance for the whole tribe. The alpha dog takes the lead and the rest of the pack work together towards the same goal: to bring their prey down. Sometimes the alpha is challenged by one of the stronger dogs in the pack and roles change.

There are many similarities between this behaviour and observed behaviours in the average company. Just like in the real jungle, it is often dog eat dog in the concrete jungle called the corporate office.

Aristotle Wrote, ‘Man Is by Nature a Political Animal.’

office politicsEven younger and more ideological workers eventually realise that office politics are inevitable in most office environments. Here are some of the reasons why:

Hierarchy – There is a hierarchy in every company and, just like the Wild Dogs, not everybody will be happy with how power, compensation and importance are divided. While dogs will settle hierarchical disputes with physical strength, people use what they have at their disposal: mental acuity.
Competition – Getting promoted usually means a higher status, more responsibility and a higher remuneration. This can turn into fierce competition and result in misalignment of objectives. When a team is not objectively aligned, the company and the team could end up being adversely affected.
Emotions – People are emotional creatures. Decisions in the workplace are not only affected by work-related goals, but also by personal and emotional factors. Where emotions are running high, rational reasoning can be compromised.
Inequality – Nepotism and favouritism can result in some employees doing more for less compensation and others reaping the benefits and doing less for more compensation.

These elements and more create tremendous scope for office politics. Although some companies recognise that politics can create a toxic work environment, other companies encourage and even reward top political players. For those not interested in playing corporate games, staying out of it becomes a tough battle to fight.

Tips to Keep Your Head Above Water in an Ocean of Politics

It can be daunting when your success in a company depends on navigating around office politics. Although it is not always possible to ‘just deal with it’ or ‘just ignore it’ there are a few ways in which employees can get through the worst of an onslaught of office politics.

KYNC – When you are in an environment where competition is fierce and people lack scruples, the first bit of excellent advice is to KYNC (Keep Your Nose Clean). Do what is expected of you, and do your best.

Understand the informal hierarchy – Establish who’s who in the zoo. Find out which monkeys are the ones really in charge, not the managers but the people with informal power because of their positions or performance. Also find out who is most likely to cause trouble.

Build relationships – Make sure you build positive professional relationships with colleagues from all levels of the hierarchy. This will help you to avoid becoming part of a clique and also help you to recognise potential tensions.

Neutralise negative play – By getting to know the potential troublemakers, you can avoid a lot of tension. However, make sure that you don’t avoid these people. Instead be courteous and friendly, but be careful what you say in front of them.

Self-govern – Don’t gossip, get sucked into arguments, spread rumours or whine and complain. Avoid relying on confidentiality; rather assume that everything you say will be revealed. Be assertive but not aggressive. Above all, be a model of integrity.