Politics in Organizational Behavior

Politics in Organizational BehaviorPolitics is the making of a common decision for a group of people, that is, a uniform decision applying in the same way to all members of the group. It also involves the use of power by one person to affect the behavior of another person.

More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance organized control over a human community, particularly a state.

Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities.

A variety of methods are employed in politics, which include promoting or forcing one’s own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries.

Politics is exercised on a wide range of social levels, from clans and tribes of traditional societies, through modem local governments, companies and institutions up to sovereign states, to the international level. It is very often said that politics is about power.

A political system is a framework which defines acceptable political methods within a given society.

History of political thought can be traced back to early antiquity, with seminal works such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics and the works of Confucius. Formal Politics refers to the operation of a constitutional system of government and publicly defined institutions and procedures.

Political parties, public policy or discussions about war and foreign affairs would fall under the category of Formal Politics. Informal Politics is understood as forming alliances, exercising power and protecting and advancing particular ideas or goals.

What is Organizational Politics?

Organizational politics are informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power, or achieve other targeted objectives.

Politics has been around for millennia. Aristotle wrote that politics stems from a diversity of interests, and those competing interests must be resolved in some way. “Rational” decision making alone may not work when interests are fundamentally incongruent, so political behaviors and influence tactics arise.

Some persons think that there has been no shortage of definitions for organizational politics.

Essentially, however, they have focused on the use of power to affect decision making in the organization or on behaviors by members that are self-serving and organizationally nonsanctioned.

For our purposes, we shall define political behavior in organizations as activities that are not required as part of one’s formal role in the organization, but that influence, or attempt to influence, the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within the organization (Farrell &Peterson,1988).

Organizational politics refers to intentional behaviors that are designed to enhance or protect a person’s influence and self-interest used professionally, these behaviors may help attain a well-earned promotion, sell higher management on the merits of a proposal that will expand one’s responsibilities and resources, or gain personal visibility.

Other employees, however, choose either to avoid politics at all cost or to use politics in a self-serving, manipulative, and deceitful fashion. The risk is that unscrupulous employees involved in organizational politics might put their self-interest above that of their employer in their attempts to gain political power for short-term or long-term benefits.

This definition encompasses key elements from what most people mean when they talk about organizational politics. Political behavior is outside one’s specified job requirements. The behavior requires some attempt to use one’s power bases.

In addition, our definition encompasses efforts to influence the goals, criteria, or processes used for decision making when we state that politics is concerned with “the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within the organization.”

Our definition is broad enough to include varied political behaviors such as withholding key information from decision makers, joining a coalition, whistleblowing, spreading rumors, leaking confidential information about organizational activities to the media, exchanging favors with others in the organization for mutual benefit, and lobbying on behalf of or against a particular individual or decision alternative.

A final comment relates to what has been referred to as the “legitimate – illegitimate” dimension in political behavior.

Legitimate political behavior refers to normal everyday politics – complaining to your supervisor, bypassing the chain of command, forming coalitions, obstructing organizational policies or decisions through inaction or excessive adherence to rules, and developing contracts outside the organization through one’s professional activities.

On the other hand, there are also illegitimate political behaviors that violate the implied rules of the game.

Those who pursue such extreme activities are often described as individuals who “play hardball”. Illegitimate activities include sabotage, whistleblowing, and symbolic protests such as wearing an unorthodox dress or protest buttons, and groups of employees simultaneously calling in sick.

One survey of more than 400 managers provides insight into their views toward organizational politics.

To a large extent, the managers agreed that-

  • Politics is common in most of the organizations.
  • Managers must be good at politics to succeed.
  • Politics become more important at higher levels.
  • Politics can detract from organizational efficiency.\

Functions of Organizational Politics

Organizations, as is too well-known, are collections of individuals who pursue individual as well as common goals. They are also networks of individuals with widely different interests attempting to deal with a host of inconsistent demands from within and outside the organization.

Organizational politics helps three people to adapt and helps the organization to succeed in ways that the formal structure alone cannot guarantee. It may not be wrong to state that organizational politics adds life to the otherwise lifeless skeleton of an organization.

Especially, the functions of organizational politics are; overcoming personal inadequacies, coping with change, channelizing personal contacts, and substituting for formal authority.

Overcoming Personnel Inadequacies

There are several inadequacies in personnel and consequently, mismatches occur between people and positions in organizations. Even in the best-managed companies, mismatches arise among managers who are learning, lacking needed training and skills, overqualified, or lacking resources needed to accomplish their assigned tasks.

Organizational politics provide a mechanism for circumventing those inadequacies and getting the job done.

Cope with Change

Changes in the environment and technology of an organization often come more quickly than an organization can restructure. Even in organizations known for detailed planning, unanticipated events occur.

To meet unanticipated problems, people and resources must be moved into place quickly before minor problems and move ambitious, problem-solving managers into the crisis.

Channel Personnel Contacts

In larger organizations, it is, largely impossible to know the persons in every important position. Yet managers need to influence the individuals throughout the organization. The political network can provide the necessary access.

Substitute for Formal Authority

When a person’s formal authority breaks-down or fails to apply to a situation, political actions can be used to prevent a loss of influence.

Managers may use political behavior to maintain operations and achieve task continuity in circumstances where the failure of formal authority may otherwise cause problems. Henry Mintzberg identified some functional roles in organizational politics.

Most of them correspond with the functions listed above.

However, three of them are new and hence are stated below:

  • The system of politics can act in a Darwinian way to ensure that the strongest members of the organization are brought into a position of leadership.
  • The system of politics can ensure that all sides of an issue are fully debated, whereas the other systems of influence tend to promote only one.
  • The system of politics can pave the path for the execution of decisions.

The Reality of Politics

Politics is a fact of life in organizations. People who ignore this fact of life do so at their own peril. But why, who may wonder, must politics exist? Isn’t it possible for an organization to be politics-free?

It’s possible but most unlikely. Organizations are made up of individuals and groups with different values, goals, and interests. This sets up the potential for conflict over resources.

Departmental budgets, space allocations, project responsibilities, and salary adjustments are just a few examples of the resources about whose allocation organizational members will discharge.

Resources in organizations are also limited, which often turns potential conflict into real conflict. If resources were abundant, then all the various-constituencies within the organization could satisfy their goals.

But because they are limited, not everyone’s. Interests can be provided for. These forces create competition among members of the organization’s limited resources.

Maybe the most important factor leading to politics within organizations is the realization that most of the “facts” that are used to allocate the limited resources are open to interpretation.

  • What is a good performance?
  • What’s an adequate improvement?
  • What constitutes an unsatisfactory job?

One person’s view that an act is a “self-effort to benefit the organization” is seen by another as a “blatant attempt to further one’s interest.” Most managerial decisions take place in the large and ambiguous middle ground of organizational life.

Finally, because most decisions have to be made in a climate of ambiguity, people within organizations will use whatever influence they can to taint the facts to support their goals and interests. These are activities we call politicking.

Therefore, to answer the earlier questions of whether it is possible for an organization to be politics-free, we can say: “Yes”, if all members of that organization hold the same goals and interests, if organizational resources are not scarce, and if performance outcomes are completely clear and objective.

But that doesn’t describe the organizational world the most of us live in.

Politics is in the Eye of the Beholder.

A behavior that one-person labels as “organizational politics” are very likely to be characterized as an instance of “effective management” by another. The fact is not that effective management is necessarily political, although in some cases it might be.

Rather, a person’s reference point determines what he or she classifies as organizational politics. Take a look at the following labels used to describe the same phenomenon. These suggest that politics, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

How to Deal with Organizational Politics?

Organizational politics is a full-contact sport. It must be played with diligence and a full understanding of the landscape, players, and rules.

Like any good sports team, preparation before the game makes the game much easier to play and gives you a better chance of winning. Below are a few essential skills that will help you play the game better;

  • Be Data Driven.
  • Foster Alliances.
  • Admit When You Are Wrong.
  • Understand the Question Behind the Question.
  • Tell the Truth.
  • Use E-mail Sparingly.
  • Always Look Out for the Best Interest of the Company.
  • Foster Relationships.
  • Stand up for Yourself.
  • Help Others.
  • Try and Find Common Ground.
  • Agree to Disagree.
  • Be the Peacemaker.
  • Know When to Say “I don’t know”.
  • Constantly Adjust to the Approach.

Be Data-Driven

Usually, data trumps any sort of political agenda. When you are data-driven, you rely on the facts and that is your best method to diffuse any sort of political positioning.

Foster Alliances

You need to build up alliances well in advance of any political conflict. Alliances are a great way to help each other ensure that nothing gets past your collective political radar.

Admit When You Are Wrong

The power of admitting when you are wrong is seldom understood. When used correctly, it diffuses a politically charged situation within an instant. The trick is to use it sparingly since if you are wrong too often, people will start to question your competence.

Understand the Question Behind the Question

In a politically charged environment, the line of questioning will always lead to some sort of political peak. Knowing where the questions are leading will allow you to anticipate this and adjust accordingly.

Tell the Truth

This may seem obvious but most people will skirt the truth because it may make them look bad. Don’t worry so much about looking bad that but rather, make sure you have the facts straight and that you are striving to seek the truth about the situation.

Use E-mail Sparingly

Email can be a curse in a political environment since it’s a record of half-baked ideas and half-truths. Use email sparingly and only when you have the facts straight.

Always Look Out for the Best Interest of the Company

This is probably the single best thing you can do when in a politically charged company. No one can debate your motivation when it’s in the best interest of the company.

Foster Relationships

Personal insights into your coworkers can help you navigate the political landscape by giving you content into their personality. This is useful when the arguments get heated.

Stand up for Yourself

When you are right, let everyone know it. Don’t cower when someone attacks you. Rather, state the facts and be proud of how you handled the situation.

Help Others

By helping others, you earn their trust and respect. You also earn their gratitude that Will come in handy when you need help.

Try and Find Common Ground

Common ground is where everyone in the situation can agree. In almost every situation, there is some common point where all parties will agree. Finding that will allow you to accomplish a critical political move — having the parties actually agree on something.

Agree to Disagree

Sometimes a situation will descend into such chaos that the only solution is to agree to disagree. This should be your last alternative but it’s a powerful tool when you are deadlocked.

Be the Peacemaker

It’s best that you get the reputation of someone who finds solutions to tricky problems. Being the peacemaker is one way to achieve that. Peacemakers are looked at favorably because they transcend the politics and focus on making progress.

Know When to Say “I don’t know”

It’s much better to say I don’t know that to try and make up an answer on the fly. Saying I don’t know takes courage but when used correctly, those three simple words can diffuse a volatile situation for another day. Just be careful not to use it too much.

Constantly Adjust with the Approach

As the saying goes, one size does not fit all. You need to read the situation you are in. and select the best approach to achieve your objectives. Doing this will allow you to be much more successful than if you just do the same thing over and over again.

One thing that stands out from the list above is the amount of effort it takes to interact in a politically charged organization.

Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed. Most people do get overwhelmed when they first jump into a political environment. The thing to remember is to ease into it, if possible and really understand the landscape before you start playing the game.

Influence and Political Power

Managers, and all employees, in contemporary organizations, must learn to produce results, elicit cooperation, and make things happen without reliance on traditional forms of power.

As difficult as this goal sounds, it is still possible if managers begin with the premise that everyone is motivated primarily by her or his own self-interest.

Knowing this, a person can influence others by making mutually beneficial exchanges with them to gain their cooperation. Here are seven steps to follow for increasing your influence:’

  • Treat the other party as a potential ally.
  • Specify your objectives.
  • Learn about the other party’s needs, interests, and goals.
  • Inventory your own resources to identify something you can offer.
  • Assess your current relationship with the other person.
  • Decide what to ask for and what to offer.
  • Make the actual exchange that produces a gain for both parties.

Dealing with Office Politics

In many developing countries where political instability is normal matter, here office politics is very common and vitally influence the official activities.

Sine persons are well familiar with this matter, so they can deal with office politics by following many strategies which are discussed below;

Navigating the Minefield

Office politics are the tactics that people play to gain advantage. “There’s too much wrangling and maneuvering going on in the offices.

This type of politics is hateful. Whether we hate it, admire it, practice it or avoid it, office politics is a fact of life in any organization. And, like it or not, it’s something that you need to understand and master to be sure of your own success.

“Office politics” are the strategies that people play to gain an advantage, personally or for a cause they support. The term often has a negative connotation, in that it a referral to strategies people use to seek advantage at the expense of others or the greater good. In this context, it often adversely affects the working environment and relationships within it.

Good “office politics”, on the other hand, help you fairly promote yourself and your cause, and is more often called networking and stakeholder management. Perhaps due to the negative connotation, many people see office politics as something very much to be avoided.

But the truth is, to ensure your own success and that of your business; you must navigate the minefield of Office Politics. If you deny the ‘bad politics’ that may be going on around you and avoid dealing with them, you may needlessly suffer whilst others take unfair advantage.

And if you avoid practicing ‘good politics’, you miss the opportunities to properly further your own interests, and those of your team and your cause.

Why work politics are Inevitable;

  • Some people have more power than others, either through hierarchy or some other basis of influence.
  • For many people, gaining promotion is important, and this can create competition between individuals, or misalignment between the team’s objectives and those of individuals within it.
  • Most people care passionately about decisions at work and this encourages political behavior as they seek to get their way.
  • Decisions at work are impacted by both work-related goals and personal factors, so there is further scope for goal conflict.
  • People and teams within organizations often have to compete for limited resources; this can lead to a kind of “tribal conflict” where teams compete to satisfy their needs and objectives, even when this is against the greater good.

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