Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 10;   March 7, 2001: Workplace Politics Is Not a Game

Workplace Politics Is Not a Game

by

We often think about "playing the game" — either with relish or repugnance. Whatever your level of skill or interest, you'll do better if you see workplace politics as it is. It is not a game.
Game balls

We all know that workplace politics can affect our level of success and even happiness. Whatever your skill level, you'll do better if you recognize that workplace politics isn't a game in the usual sense. Understanding how it differs from sports or parlor games can enhance your chances of success.

Games vs. Politics
How to Deal with the Difference
A real game has rules that everyone follows. In politics, the rules change and they're open to interpretation.
Appealing to precedent or to others' sense of fairness doesn't work. Think beyond precedent. Even though Martin's request was denied, your own might be approved.
A real game has referees and judges. In workplace politics, there are no officials and there is no appeals process. Participants do whatever makes sense to them.
Seeking justice is a waste of time. Instead, try to achieve your goals by staying within your own ethics.
A real game has periods of play and rest — four quarters, nine innings, half time, a seventh inning stretch. Workplace politics is 24/7. It can be an extreme endurance test.
Monitor your own energy reserves. Avoid being consumed by the passions of the action. Rest when you can.
A real game has finite duration — eventually, the game ends. Workplace politics is endless. As long as the organization exists, and you work there, you participate in its politics.
Be aware that people might remember anything you do. Don't do anything you would want to cover up later. Even if you're never discovered, the knowledge can be a burden.
A real game has fixed teams of uniformed players. In workplace politics, there might be alliances, but they're changeable, and you can't always tell who's on which team. Some people play for multiple teams.
Even people you trust can be more loyal to themselves than to you. You yourself might someday have to do something like that. Understand and accept that this can happen, and that we all do the best we can.
In a real game, the teams are similar in size, structure, and mission. Each team scores in roughly the same way. In workplace politics, the factions differ markedly in size, power, and mission.
The resources available to political alliances are unique and unpredictable. Success depends on learning to use what you have, rather than acquiring what you think you need.
A real game has spectators who watch but who don't actually play. In workplace politics, there are no spectators — we're all affected by what happens. Some of us participate actively, some passively, but we all participate.
Playing for the audience is futile — most people are too busy with their own stuff to watch you. Only one person is truly worth impressing — yourself. Behave in ways you can be proud of.

Politics and games are similar in one important way — winning a game requires skills specific to that game. To be successful politically, we must learn to see things as they are. And we can begin by realizing that workplace politics is not a game. Go to top Top  Next issue: Appreciate Differences  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenpMCfvGoWhiJbCDroner@ChacAThweotnpHQOCQfnoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Three-legged racing teamDevious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
Captain William BlighHow to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager
By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.
Theatrical poster for the 1944 film Double IndemnityPolitical Framing: Communications
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.
President George W. Bush of the United States and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi ArabiaSocial Transactions: We're Doing It My Way
We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors, and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do we decide whose preferences rule?
Todd Park, United States Chief Technology OfficerProjects as Proxy Targets: II
Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins, some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.

See also Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A review meetingComing December 13: Reframing Revision Resentment: II
When we're required to revise something previously produced — prose, designs, software, whatever, we sometimes experience frustration with those requiring the revisions. Here are some alternative perspectives that can be helpful. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
Raquel Welch (left) and Gilda Radner (right) from a @Cite{Saturday Night Live rehearsal, April 24, 1976And on December 20: Conceptual Mondegreens
When we disagree about abstractions, such as a problem solution, or a competitor's strategy, the cause can often be misunderstanding the abstraction. That misunderstanding can be a conceptual mondegreen. Available here and by RSS on December 20.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenBaiVrEKPDwQJTFqIner@ChachRteFPcLWbTjSCrKoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.