Politics is indispensible at work. It is the means by which we resolve problems jointly, and allocate resources to achieve joint objectives. And politics has a dark side. Some political operators use political means to advance personal agendas at the expense of the organization, their colleagues, or both. What are the indicators of such behavior? How can we tell whether there is political risk to our organizations, or to our own personal well-being? Here are some indicators of political risk, emphasizing attributes of organizational culture.
- Intentionally inflicting political harm
- Political harm to others can be an unintended result of legitimate actions. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But if someone you work with has harmed another politically, and has done so intentionally, as the primary objective of the political act, beware. That person apparently believes that such actions are within cultural norms. Maybe they are.
- Boasting about having inflicted political harm
- Someone boasting of having inflicted political harm on another could be a signal that, at least in the view of the boaster, the culture actually admires those who succeed in harming others. Such a cultural norm encourages politically motivated attacks. Watch your back.
- Bearing grudges, seeking revenge, or avoiding someone
- Harboring grudges Environments in which people
perceive an absence of procedural
justice are fertile grounds for
the tactics of toxic politicsagainst others, seeking revenge, or avoiding others, are all tactics people use when they feel wronged. People are more likely to use these tactics when they feel that "procedural justice" is unavailable [Aquino 2006]. Environments in which people perceive an absence of procedural justice are fertile grounds for the tactics of toxic politics.
- Rampant bigotry
- When people act out of bigotry against a race, a sex, a sexual orientation, an age group, an ethnic group, a profession, an educational level, an alma mater, a birthplace, or whatever, and when the organizational culture tolerates those bigoted actions, the bigots will, very likely, eventually get around to discriminating against some group that you belong to.
- Rampant idolatry
- Another form of bigotry, with polarity opposite to the most common forms of bigotry, is idolatry, in which we hold members of one social group to be inherently superior to all others. Members of the favored group rarely complain. But if you don't belong to the favored group, you could be at risk.
- Feuds are long-running toxic conflicts between social groups. Feuds between alliances centered around members of the management team at a given level, might be an indication of the inability (or unwillingness) of more senior managers to repair the cultural defects that allow feuds to persist. Even if you aren't currently a member of a feuding faction, the culture may be such that a feud can develop that will involve your part of the organization. Be alert.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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.