Mar 082016

To Better Survive Office Politics, Learn Chess.

We are in the middle of political season. Some might say we have been for over a year. I know, it doesn’t seem to end. It seems like when an election cycle is over, it immediately starts all over again. No pause or break in the rhetoric.

Politics exists in organizations as well, though it normally doesn’t have anything to do with presidential or congressional races. But just like politicians, people in organizations have strong egos, constituencies, empire driven personalities, agendas, issues and rivalries. This can cause many traps and dead ends for those who are not politically savvy and don’t know or don’t recognize the political maze or understand which way to turn.

So how can you navigate this political minefield so that you can survive the process and still maintain your ethics and principles? Learn chess.

Chess is a mind game, and so is office politics. Chess is about learning to be prepared for the moves your opponent might take. Knowing who is out to checkmate you is important for survival in office politics. Unless you have won them over, everyone in the office is your opponent, so don’t let your guard down. Learning how to think and gauge your next step is important, and chess teaches you those lessons.

Staying out of office politics is not your option. You may try to avoid it, but developing political competence is not a matter of choice. You should become competent in handling it. When you do, you can climb further and get more done without damaging your reputation and resorting to unethical or questionable behavior.

It is a rare organization where politics barely exists. When there is competition or scarce resources, you’ll find it. It may take time to recognize it, but when you do it’s important you take appropriate action to minimize the impact it can have on you and your career. What’s important is that you make office politics work for you and use it positively.

An article earlier this year in listed some points on how to survive and master organizational politics. In summary, they are:

1.   Find out who the real influencers are, who is respected and who the “brains” behind the organization are.

2.   All organizations have informal networks, so find out who gets along, who is involved in interpersonal conflict, and who doesn’t get along with others.

3.   Build relationships. Know which relationships work and build your network accordingly to make the most of it.

4.   Neutralize negative people. Get to know potential enemies and always be careful of what you say around them. Learn what their motives are and try to counteract their impact.

5.   Govern you own behavior. Don’t pass on gossip and get sucked into arguments. Be positive and maintain your integrity.

Positive or negative, it happens. Young workers often make the mistake of thinking that understanding office politics is not important or necessary.  By the time they start to see the threat, valuable time has been lost. When they become a threat to others, things can change.  If they have failed to develop skills in dealing with organizational politics, they can get left behind.

The company Charity Water, a nonprofit on a mission to bring clean drinking water to every person on the planet, has a “no white lies” policy; those tiny lies many of us tell without a second thought are fire-able offenses under their leadership.

What is important for you is to model apolitical behavior, and reward those who do the same.

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles (495-429 BC) Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens.

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