Office Politics – Paper Wars!


There comes those instances when as an employee there is a sudden need to let the boss know you are on top of issues. In fact impressing the top hierarchy by accepting to be an involuntary participant in office politicking may seem like the means to so many positive ends. I tend to side with that line of thought and I will explain my position as this discussion unfolds. There can be nothing wrong with showing how smart you are or your need to show your super skills over your colleagues. There will always be politics in the workplace and this is usually no fault of any specific person. Most organizations especially pride themselves in how diverse their workforce is but often attributing it to synergy and business objectives. The truth is the diversity comes with a whole lot of extra baggage and add-ons with office politics being one of them.

“Office politics are the strategies that people play to gain advantage, personally or for a cause they support” – Caroline Smith

I quite remember one of the negative feedback in my very first assessment as a full-time employee was my seeming avoidance of conflict which always came on the back of office politics. Not that I agreed with that assertion but I had my own stealth counter-tactics of dealing with issues. The issue of politicking can seem trivial at first until a major incident occurs, then like a ticking time bomb, kaboooom! After, issues of gangs, cliques and alliances arise, then mistrust and so on. I must admit that in my 8 or so years working in teams, I have seen office politics escalate to varying degrees.

Oh before I forget, the term ‘too-known’ is a phrase commonly used in Ghana to refer to people who show off whatever advantage they have over their peers ranging from being smart to physical possessions. They often seen to be flaunting their ‘priceless’ possessions in the face of their peers or superiors.

If you find yourself thinking your teammate is ‘too-known’, that could be a symptom of some brewing political agenda. Why does office politics really come about?

  1. Power – or the struggle for influence

Imagine employees who are technically smarter than their supervisor or manager and showing it internationally or otherwise through performance. A lot of the time, this situation may arise if the promotion system is based on length of service rather than performance. Depending on your manager’s work ethic, it could result badly for the subordinate. I must admit that a lot depends on the organizational culture and the system of recognition and performance appraisals used. Personally, I have worked with supervisors that have been a little slow in catching up technologically compared to me but have opened up to learn. In that case, they catch up quickly and prevent any indication of lack of knowledge whiles engendering a sense loyalty from me through delegation and open communication. The race to gain power at the workplace is basically achieved through some level of politicking. It rapidly degenerates into a friction situation if it is a bottom to top situation. It is more interesting and more controlled in a lateral situation especially in a multi-team setting such as a company with sales teams especially where the supervisor is fair. People also naturally value promotion in the workplace and there can be no better motivation for politics than that.

To avoid conflicts in this kind of situation, it is best to observe the power structure dynamics and avoid crossing people with power. It also pays not to identify with any particular group. You may have been initiated unknowingly due to your schedules but it is probably better not to go with the flow. 

  1. Influence of informality

Informal networking most often would give rise to politics in the workplace. As a supervisor or leader, you must be friendly but act with integrity and fairness. If you leadership style is liberal and democratic, there is a chance that your team members may overstep their boundaries every now and then. If the regular tactic of dealing with negative issues is reactive, you are setting the grounds for some serious politics leading to lower respect from subordinates and breaking the backbone of the team. Cliques will then start to form and the politicking starts. If you are a liberal democratic leader, you must be quick to be firm when the need arises, otherwise factions are inevitable and misunderstandings will arise from alliances.

Up to this point, we have looked at politics in the office from the perspective of peers with domineering persona. It is absolutely true that the reverse situation amounts to politicking. For example, allowing your boss to look superior or giving your peers credit for your work so they can be awarded the credit for your ideas as a means to an end. This clearly qualifies as pushing an agenda for which you are the beneficiary in the end. This tactic is used by people often to gain trust or create a diversion from the main subject matter.

How do I handle the situation?

Personally, I am not a fan of office politics. It may sometimes lead to stress from dealing with issues other than your assigned task. Where professionalism is not employed, it can simply become personal, lead to wrong information through gossip or grapevine. You may tick some boxes to keep yourself in check all the time if only you are participating in active politicking. This may require you to keep a check on your emotions and reactions to your ‘opponent’s’ moves. You should always pull the plug if you are taking it too personal or reacting openly. The simplest check is whether you are doing something against policy, against the law or your professions ethical codes. Do not avoid your ‘opponent’, integrate them in your activities where they ought to.

There is always steps you can take to win. Keep focused and be sure to let your strengths and successes show in your activities. The world is becoming more knowledge-based and communication is key to expressing your strengths. Keep good records of all communications and adhere to protocols. Be positive and be confident as in my experience is the greatest weapon in your arsenal.