All of us have been in conflict situations where we were suspicious of certain actions as motivated by “politics.” An interesting take on “politics” is that there has been some research that concluded that politics could be helpful, at times. Before we begin to explore “politics,” in certain situations, standard conflict resolution approaches can be successful. On the other hand, it is beneficial to evaluate the concept of “organizational politics” and its possible effectiveness.
Many decisions have been made in organizations related to hiring. For example, the most qualified candidate was not selected, intentionally. I know of a case where the recommendation of a particular executive was accepted and the person was hired. Others in the organization knew of the political connections and that knowledge eliminated a lot of persistent interdepartmental bickering. I would not accept the theory that all political behavior would result in benefits to the organization. However, in some cases, the pursuit of personal goals by individuals can be harnessed by the organization to accomplish its own goals.
If we contemplate adopting some political behaviors to resolve conflict, self-interest and organizational interest are not mutually exclusive. It’s possible to improve organizational performance as you pursue your individual goals.
Norman Martin and John Sims reported the results of their research on power and politics within organizations. They were interested in the specific tactics that successful leaders and executives used to gain advancement in organizations.
Here are some potentially positive political behaviors.
- Alliance Formation – Friendships with those who are in high positions or who will probably be promoted to high positions can be beneficial. These leaders can help you by offering attitudes and behaviors that promote your career. This could also be defined as mentoring.
- Compromise – Compromise can be effective, particularly on issues that are minor to you but very important to others. This is especially important when the other party is equal to or more powerful than you are in the organization.
- Actively Delay – This is the ability to look as if you’re working on a project even if you’re just buying time. This is a useful strategy for dealing with controversial, “no-win” projects. A study committee is a particularly effective active-delay tactic.
- Exchanging Information – Sharing or exchanging information is often accomplished through informal communication channels or networks that are sometimes defined as the “grapevine”.
- Flexibility – This could be the willingness to transfer from your area of expertise into new areas. Those who exercise this maneuverability frequently move ahead faster in their careers than those who are inflexible about what they will do.
- Enthusiasm – Enthusiasm helps you to be more persuasive and sell your ideas to others.
- Confidence – Those who exhibit confidence are typically viewed as more able and more powerful than those who are fearful and pessimistic.
- Seek Advice – Carefully and selectively seek the advice of a few others whose judgement you have come to trust. However, be very selective and cautious that you do not seek too much advice from too many people. Sometimes, those who are known to seek too much advice and counsel may be viewed as weak or ineffective.
- Stay Within Your Role – If you are a team leader, stay within your role. Believe it or not, team members want their leader to behave and function as such, rather than trying to be “one of the group.” In other words, there must be a certain “psychological distance” between leaders and members, even when there is a friendly relationship. Team members actually prefer and need team leaders who are respected for their expertise and influence outside their home department or group.
The usefulness of these political behaviors, in terms of career success, have been deemed necessary for advancement in organizations. Being politically smart can minimize the negative effects of conflict and help team leaders get ahead. Here is another way to consider the foregoing techniques and suggestions: “The major goal of organizations is not conflict-resolution, but rather conflict avoidance.” If conflicts cannot be avoided, judicious political behaviors can subtlety help to minimize or resolve conflicts without damaging relationships.
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