Let’s start with Political Savvy – what is it? Being politically savvy means that you have the ability to size up a situation and understand the people involved in that situation who can and will influence the outcome.Why is this important to realize? Well, we work with people, people of diverse culture, thought, beliefs, and practices. We make judgments about the people we work with that we like them, or not; we respect them, or not; and we want to get to know them better, or not. We share work experiences that help us to form a belief system about the people we work with—each person has a separate place in our system. What we learn about others through observation, interaction, information from others, and our own intuitions, helps us to form these beliefs. The people we work with can influence the outcome of our careers, either directly or indirectly. Playing politics at the office can be harmful and dangerous. A smart player in this political game, on the other hand, can benefit from the positive manipulations and interactions.
Now, I could get scientific on you and suggest that conscious physical sensation and conscious emotional awareness meet at the right frontal insula of the brain and form feelings and awareness. But I’ll bet most of you don’t care. I suspect you want to know more about defining political savvy sufficiently to stay out of trouble, and better yet, to understand the concept to make it work for you! We will discuss the negatives first, what to look for and how to assert your influence to control the situation, and then wrap-up with the positive aspects of being politically savvy and how to benefit from playing positive politics!
Being politically savvy means you have an understanding of how to deal with someone who is ”playing politics.” Playing politics has a bad name in the workplace, doesn’t it? It implies that you are opportunistic and manipulative, perhaps even devious, the way you interact with others. If you have not had the pleasure of working with an individual who is political in her way of doing business, this writing may not be meaningful to you. For those of you who have had or are dealing with this type of employee, you will appreciate some of my discussion to come. If you are unaware, the following will help you to identify an individual who could be potentially damaging to your career.
The Down Side
If you see politics as a game, and if you have good gamesmanship, you will actually enjoy the interactions. Realize that something is at stake; often times employees seek success, favor, or power, for example. Employees who seek power or success may see you as an obstacle to their success and will target you for virtual elimination of threat. If you are viewed as a power broker with much respect and opportunity more generally, and someone wants what you have, perhaps because of professional jealousy, you may be in trouble for having done all the right things! You may be a target. If you suspect this because of the way others treat you, what do you do? What should you be doing?
First, if your performance is measured by quantitative indicators, continue to work toward hitting your numbers and providing deliverables, assuming they are reasonable or achievable and ethical. If you know someone is trying to unseat you, continually watch your back but do not share your awareness. Talking about this openly throws advantage to the other side. Pressure in the workplace comes in many forms and trying to keep your performance at a high level, alone, is sufficient to deal with let alone the pressure from those who want to make it hard on you, politically. Stay grounded knowing your behavior is aligned with organizational goals. My personal philosophy is three-part: 1) take care of your organization first, 2) protect, develop, and cooperate with your peers and your subordinates, and 3) cover your butt.
The Up Side
A person with the mindset of being cooperative and collaborative can win at politics. Do not be put off by the word politics and vow not to engage in such. This approach will get you nowhere. The first lesson a good manager or executive learns is to build relationships, good working relationships. Identify those who appear to be guarding their turf and/or using power for their personal gain and devise a plan how to diffuse the situation and/or negotiate with them. Understand individuals will have personal agendas and will not necessarily know how to treat everyone fairly. Be a good role model in this regard. If you are in a position of power, gently steer your peers and subordinates in the right directions. Above all, think about your reputation. How do others see you? Be a person of integrity, do not shy away from conflict, and be sure to bring the right people into your fold. Remember, you must be productive and demonstrate you care about the organization and those with whom you work. Demonstrate strong leadership and create an environment open to change that matters. Know who to leverage with to get things done. Building positive relationships is playing positive politics!
Patricia A. D’Urso, Ph.D.
Note: For permission to quote or reprint on a one-time basis or if you wish to discuss your situation of politics in your workplace with me, contact me.