Corporate Survival... How to manage yourself in the political
In my first corporate job, I had high expectations that
promotions were based on a solid work ethic and quality
production. I wanted to aim for the top and make it happen.
Unfortunately, my ideas of corporate environment were
inaccurate. As a grunt, an engineer, and a manager, the games,
turf wars, and political thrashings taught me numerous
incredible lessons. In the end, I made it to where I wanted to
be, but not without bruises, scrapes, and experience.
Now, people come to me with problems that they have within their
companies or on their job. They want to learn how they can
overcome a situation or better adapt to make it within their
companies. For instance, one employee lost out on a promotion
because the person in charge favored another person. In such
situations, you have to look at both sides. Of course, the
scorned employee was upset as his credentials exceeded the
promoted employee's. But, when we examined the other side of the
coin, one of the prominent actions performed by the promoted
employee was that he publicly supported the boss. If you remove
emotion from the situation, and apply some "poli-think," it made
sense, according to the manager's needs.
You can either fight it, or you can learn how to make it work
for you. I'm not condoning politics nor am I saying that you
should use political tactics in your everyday life, as this is
not only exhausting, but it also takes away from your work and
personal time. But, if you can understand your corporate culture
and its politics, you can better learn how to handle the
situations that are placed before you instead of becoming
stressed or frustrated.
--- The Corporate Culture ---
When you enter Corporate America, you have two choices: dig in,
go with the punches, and make it into the inner circle, or you
can hang back and just do your job. Both postures are very
necessary elements of corporate life and both are just as
difficult. It all depends on what you want out of your career.
* The Corporate Being
A Corporation is a living, breathing, and growing entity. It
changes on an irregular basis, adapts to its environment, and
sometimes performs acts that seem almost ludicrous. In this way,
a corporation is very much like a human being.
You, as a part of this being, must learn how it grows and
changes. Most of the time, this information is not evident.
However, part of the task of becoming a viable asset to this
being is to look beyond the surface and find out where things
are going. In this way, you can position yourself to be a
positive part of the growth and change.
Many of the political situations that occur within a corporation
are a result of this growth and change. These changes cause
incredible stress for some individuals; however, the stress can
be overcome by not fighting the politics and learning the
culture of the organization. You will learn that many of these
situations have valid political reasons for why they occur.
Learning the corporate culture is an important step in managing
the stresses associated with any job. Take some time to observe
the culture at your office. This will not only give you an idea
as to how to handle yourself, but it will also help you learn
how to handle others.
* Culture Shock
A corporate culture is a set of behaviors and rules that people
use to manage their interactions. These include formal company
policies and informal rules that you learn through experience.
Many times, management will not tell you the informal rules of
the office, but they will use your ability to adapt and learn as
a sign of how well you handle yourself. Additionally, behaving
in an inappropriate manner for the culture could risk your being
labeled as uncooperative by your coworkers.
In any situation, you should analyze the culture, and, if
necessary, change your habits accordingly to minimize stress. To
evaluate your corporate culture, you should consider various
important aspects of the environment. For instance,
communication style, teamwork, chain of command, appearance,
management roles, interoffice friendships, politics, individual
attitudes, and general workspace environment are important
elements to pay attention to so that you can better acclimate to
After you've learned the culture of your workplace, you should
see how it matches your personal style and expectations. To help
prevent workplace stress, it's likely that you'll have to adjust
some of your own habits. Of course, you should not stifle your
originality or become an indistinguishable android. With an
understanding of your workplace culture, you can make informed
choices about your behavior and work habits, and prevent
stressful situations and conflicts.
--- Corporate Games ---
Before you can understand corporate games in the workplace, you
must understand one, core definition of the games: a corporate
game is an illegitimate means of getting things done. It is a
way that people twist and turn situations to reach a specific
goal. However, those people that don't play, risk their careers.
Improperly managing power and politics can make or break your
career, cause many sleepless nights, and often has very little
to do with your actual job duties. Many people who fail in their
jobs do so because of political problems, not skill
deficiencies. Many intelligent and capable people aren't as
successful as they might be because they haven't learned to cope
with office politics. Understanding why you might be having
difficulty at work involves understanding the basic elements of
office politics and why it exists.
Politics and political maneuvering is the interpersonal
conflicts and power plays that exist in most organizations.
Among the specific actions commonly associated with office
politics are intimidation, indirect communications, covert
tactics for advancement, manipulation for control, indirectly
telling the truth, hiding vulnerability issues, and playing for
Some companies are better than others in the amount of political
activity required to do a job. In some companies, playing
corporate politics is the only job you have the time to develop.
In others, it is only slightly important. Politics is part of
the corporate culture of every organization and it's important
to understand how it plays into your organization.
* Why does it exist?
Politics came about as a way of handling intense competition.
Generally, business itself is a competitive game ranging from
simple tests of skill to full-blown battles. The game is driven
by survival conditions induced by an expanding world market in
which companies must continue to change and grow. There's a
constant challenge to overwhelm the opposition, reduce costs,
and acquire additional resources. All of these attributes
trickle down through the ranks to cause individual battles for
promotions, rewards, and recognition at all costs.
Another reason for office politics has to do with the
hierarchical structure of most organizations. The higher you
advance, the less room there is at the top. As long as people
battle for the "corner office," workplace maneuvers will reign.
This is where the most intense battles occur and where most
people find that they are stepped on or pushed aside.
Also, office politics occurs where personal matters are
suppressed because they are seen as interfering with the
direction and the good of the corporation. Certain arrangements
help to keep individual feelings out of corporations as well as
prevent the discussion of sensitive issues and the denial of
interpersonal conflict. However, since human beings are social
beings, human needs appear in the form of political conflict.
--- Surviving Corporate Games ---
Whether you decide to play or not, don't get caught in the
middle. If you become the individual that battles politics, then
you become the scorned of the organization. If you decide to
stay out of it completely, then do your job and stay out. Those
on the other end of the spectrum that play will respect your
decision because that alone gives them less competition in their
One thing you'll notice is that no one will admit to playing
games; however, that is part of the secret of politics. You, on
the other hand, cannot confront anyone for playing games;
however, you can identify the games and learn how to manage them
to suit your needs. Once you figure out how to do this, then
your stress level will drop, and you'll be accepted in your
* What do you want?
Before you can learn how to use these games to your advantage,
you have to set a course and stick with it. This means
determining what it is that you want out of your career. If you
roam aimlessly through your career, then you'll get nowhere as
you are a benefit to no one, including yourself. If you know
what you want and are willing to work to get there, then people
will take notice and begin working with you to get where you
want to go. The objective of managing corporate games is to
benefit those in charge and understand how to use available
resources to your own benefit.
* Learning the game.
People who dislike company politics usually associate it with
backstabbing, taking credit for others' work, or getting by on
personality rather than performance. For the most part, these
are standard characteristics of a political game. However, you
don't have to play this way to make it in a political
environment. To survive, for our purposes here, political game
playing means developing good "people skills." It means
contribution, diplomacy, collaboration, cooperation, and
conducting a personal public relations campaign. Some of the
best ways to handle politics at this level are:
- Keep your eyes and ears open to everything that goes on around
you. You can use this information to your own best interests.
Listen more to what other people are saying and absorb what they
- Learn how to communicate with others on all levels.
- Resolve disputes quickly and don't allow them to linger and
spread. Conflicts interfere with production. Additionally, this
will get you into the rumor mill and eventually have you on the
same level as Jack-the-Ripper.
- Compromise positions and issues so that you end up in a
win-win situation. You want to always leave the other person
with a piece of the pie, if it benefits you.
- Be open and willing to admitting you're wrong. Holding out
when you're wrong will only place you in a position of conflict
and distrust by others.
- Take on leadership roles when possible. Demonstrate your
abilities to lead and manage situations professionally.
- Be professionally assertive without being abrasive.
- Make "acquaintances" within the organization. You don't want
to have close friends, nor do you want to make enemies.
- Put the corporate direction ahead of your own. Being part of a
forward moving team that supports the company is the way to gain
positive looks from the inner-circle.
To accomplish your goals, you'll need to be very people-smart.
Playing politics isn't necessarily bad. In fact, it's a key
survival skill in most organizations. Many good corporate
politicians are both likeable and effective---that's why they
make it to the top. Those who refuse to play or battle against
the politics may accomplish a lot, but they seldom last long
because they don't fit into the overall scheme and are seen as
--- What's next? ---
I'm sure that you've read one or more Dilbert cartoons by Scott
Adams. They're very humorous, but what makes them humorous is
that, for the most part, they represent actual situations in an
office environment. If you see any of his cartoons and don't
somehow find humor, then you have a lot to learn. Regardless of
where you go or what you do, politics in the corporate culture
Political decisions encourage many of the situations that most
people despise, including hypocrisy, secrecy, rumors,
self-interests, image building, and cliques. However, politics
will always be a part of organizations as long as people are
involved---to be human is to be political. Whenever people's
priorities, values, and interests diverge, some type of
political ploy usually takes place. The amount of involvement
you choose is entirely up to what you want out of your career.
Remember, it's not a "personal attack," it's a "political
approach." If you learn your culture and consider that statement
in your daily activities, your work environment can be more
enjoyable and less stressful.