Corporate politics vs the perception of it

I get that a lot, every day – Stories of failure wrapped in linen of how the world is unfair and unjust for not granting what one deserves ( in their own minds at least ). Well, I ain’t gonna glorify failures beyond a point. Since they actually don’t get you results. But I do agree, I fail more than an average person does in their day to day life. But the reason why I bring it up was not discussing failures but the linen we use to wrap it in! One such linen is “Corporate Politics”. A lot of stories I hear are about how someone was subjected to corporate politics by teammates and managers ( read as demons) in their organization.

So frustrated I was for being given this an excuse to those several unwarranted failure stories, that I really set out to find what it really means.

The experiment was extremely tough since I had to get past my own judgments and first acknowledge that it’s more real for some people than what I imagine. It exists! Going out with a biased perspective wouldn’t have helped anyway. ( note how hard I am trying to keep this post unbiased )

While I got several interpretations of what “corporate politics” mean. So here is what I gathered.

Favoritism: Topping the list was Favouritism. This seemed to sound like the most common thread. Almost everyone who was subjected to the inhuman torture of “corporate politics” felt that their manager favored someone else over them.

Victimisations: intentional targeting to demoralize someone to an extent where they start underperforming.

Group-ism: Ok, for me this was toughest to acknowledge, but did sound real when I heard through the whole case. A scenario where you feel you have a set of people ( may or may not include your manager ) who wants to see you are screwed. It’s the sole purpose of their life – to get most out of you without giving credits to You to may be Just sidelining you from all critical conversations and decision making.

Shadowing: I am not sure if that’s even the right term for it, but let me try to explain it. When someone takes away all the credit of what you have done for his career advancement at your cost. Also, this same person loves to delegate tasks to you including his own.

All these definitely sounded like real, but there was one more which I felt like was the undercurrent of all conversations: “ Complains”! Almost everyone felt aggrieved and passionately complained about others. But the problem is :

One Of The Few Things I Complain About: Complaining – Gary Vaynerchuk

Exactly what I feel when I hear the phrase corporate politics. Let’s try to address each one of the problems here, with logical resolutions.

Favoritism

Yeah I totally agree this is real. Even I have my favorites and I am sure even your manager would have it. But here is the truth – *even you have your favorites*.

It’s just human to get comfortable with people who we have spent more time with than just about every person one meets at work. Where lack of maturity begins is when a manager allows that comfort seep into work and gives undue advantage to his favorites. While that’s a serious underperformance on manager’s behalf, that does not translate into politics still. There is no one who can stop us from getting noticed for the amazing work we do. The traditional linear reporting structure is long gone and in collaborative environments, people even on the other side of the globe can tell whether someone rocks or sucks. You aren’t at the mercy of your manager, but for sure you are at the mercy of your willingness to prove a point.

Also, you got to be visible. Yes, I agree not everyone is into showman business or that may not be their style, but that doesn’t mean you can keep digging tunnels without letting the world know how far you have reached and hope someday someone will take a notice. Even You don’t bother to go to 2nd page of Google search result if the links aren’t “visible” in first five results. That’s how important visibility is to you. Your manager his own stuff to deal with, several other reports to manage and the someone to report to. Just imagine how much time does he have to take notice of You? In that small time window, I would be surprised if he actually does take notice and even if he does, it’s not to your credit. It’s his or hers!

So what does visibility entail:

Remember:

“Your success makes your manager or client look good!” So there is definitely a vested interest on both sides! Now you got to leverage it!

 

In our day to day life and work, visibility can just be achieved by better communication! That’s it. Here is what you can do, by the way of regular habit:

– Keep communicating about what you are working on.
Use every opportunity of conversation to make it a meaningful interaction. How ridiculous can an answer get when someone asks “Hey, whats up!” or “whats going on”? Well, it can be as ridiculous as “Nothing much!”. I can’t fathom shallowness of this answer. It’s either simply suggests that either you are actually not doing anything (and thus deserve the politics you are being subjected to) or you just don’t want to talk.
Go ahead and give them a quick insight into the greatness you are up to today. How you are so proud or excited about what you doing and/or how its gonna make a difference to your career or to the company! You won’t only feel great about yourself, but also enthuse energy into the listener. There is NO WAY he cannot take notice of it.

– Ask questions that show you care and want to grow: Reaching out to the manager for regular feedback on just about everything related to you and work and at times even his work, whenever you get a chance. Sharing your aspirations and what new you are upto. What course you just bought or how you made your weekend productive. There is no way he can get insights into all of this till you tell him! But once he has it, no matter whether you are a favorite or no, he’ll pave way for you to ultimate career growth.

– offer help whenever possible: Everyone needs help. But very few ask “Can I help you” not till they are getting paid for it. You don’t have to do that! You just need enough warmth to ask. More often than not you’ll be turned down. But every time that happens you would have crawled closer to that person’s heart!

and the last one:

Just ROCK!
Yeah! get up every morning to rock! Hit your work every day to do better than what you did yesterday. Make sure you find the most elegant way of what you are supposed to accomplish. Focus on stuff that matters to you and your organization. Stretch that extra mile and go over and above your conventional job description!

Don’t ever report to work again if it’s not fun or deep down you already know you suck at. Do something that makes you feel great and proud of. Adds meaning to your life and impacts your personal and professional goals positively. Yes, money is important, your salary cheques are thus essential. But it’s not worth sacrificing what you are great at or what you could be great at.

Victimization

The forces that are for you are greater than forces against you. God will take your scars and turn them into stars – Joel Osteen

“Human being” is a violent species. We have evolved through ages to become civilized and not fight wars to win what doesn’t belong to us. However, deep within for few people, there is still believe that they can (and should) achieve success at the cost of others. While the theory of abundance by Peter Diamandis assures that there is enough for everyone, there is no doubt to the fact that there are still a lot who misinterpret Darwin’s – “survival of fittest” theory.

If you are on the receiving end or at least feel so, I feel sorry for you. But if you feel helpless about it, I believe you deserve it! No one can victimize you till you let them do that. While fighting back may not be an option always, feeling helpless, definitely isn’t the solution. I have personally been on receiving end quite a few numbers of times, in some cases, I fought back, and in some, I tried to steer clear while minimizing damage. That’s what you can do too! When being brave does not have enough incentives over being smart, in such cases, steering clear is the best solution. But if that’s not an option, then don’t let the fear of repercussion let you give up and just suffer. Ask for help, connect with people who you have dealt with similar situations in past, there has to be a way out.

All this assuming your hypothesis of victimization is right. There are other cases where we are reaping what we have sown! Nothing lesser than a true conscientious reflection can show that. While we naturally bend towards justification, seeing it from someone else’s perspective will definitely help.

The third and most common possibility (that’s why I saved it for last) is you are simply overthinking. All the stories of violence and reflections aside, get this clear for yourself: There are very little chances that your fall can help someone rise. While that’s pretty much possible for high profile positions and that’s what all the television soaps show. Its highly unlikely that it applies to you. Here is a simple method to judge this – ask yourself a question and try to answer keeping in mind the person who you think is after your life (or job or wants to see you destroyed):
1. What would he get if he is successful?
Once you have answered this, then answer this:
2. Why can’t they get that anyway? Aren’t there “less evil” way for them to get it?
While answering this you may be able to discover that either you are subconsciously coming in their way or you are overestimating your position, since they can get what they want anyway!
If you haven’t arrived at a conclusion yet then try asking this:
3. What if I give it to them myself or consciously help them with it?
Ok, this one is eerie if it means you losing something important to you. You don’t have to actually give it away if you don’t want to. But you can definitely think of middle ground. This actually needs you to initiate a conversation with them – which you may or not be comfortable with. But if you actually decide to talk, I can tell you that there is a good probability that your hypothesis of victimization will fall flat on the face.

If none of the above is true, then congratulate your self (note: I am being sadistic) you have found a terrorist. The types who would are just sadist enough to get pleasure from your pain or get proven right by your failures. If such is your case, then what you are dealing with is a complete distraction. You need to develop a rhino-thick skin and try to not feed their ego. Just steer clear as soon as possible and move on with your life. Everyone has a life to deal with. Hopefully, they will have it soon too! Pray for their success, at least that would distract their attention off you.

In a work set up, its best advised you do skip level meetings or talk to people who you think can help. Take control of the situation actively, your actions can be passive as you find your way out of the mess.

A word of advice, irrespective of how real the problem is – while you go through all of this make sure you don’t let this hamper your work, your performance, and your key responsibility areas. The point is, with time this will subside but would stay is losses you have incurred.

Groupism:

This is to say that you have managed to find a set of people in your organization or workplace who bar you from your fundamental rights at work like a conducive environment, being given critical tasks or at worst, your right to grow!

Like we did before, let’s start with self-retrospection. What did you really do to turn so many people off! Everything I read about influencer marketing or being on social media is about how to make fans. Congrats you managed to make a group of haters! I am not really being mean to you, but I want you to think in ways you haven’t before. What part of your behavior, belief, approach or personality is attracting this? Be fair about your judgment and if you can’t make an unbiased one yourself, talk to someone who you know is not going to have any mercy on you while sharing their opinions. Your spouse – may be? Once detected, it’s your time to fix your own shortcomings, but before you do, even if you acknowledge it before one of those group members – you are all set!

Suppose, you come out clean! Bright and shiny out of the acid test and there are real villains on another side. Here is what you got to do – try to see what gets them together. It can be a reason or just an influencer.

If the reason is actually affecting your or creating hurdles in your day to day operations, then you need to take it head-on.
Seek the advice of senior folks or your company HR and sensitize them on the issue. They will either make arrangements for moving you out into a different project or department or actually show a different reason that you may not have comprehended. Irrespective, DO NOT step out of the room till you are convinced or decisively addressed the problem. Your persistence will define how seriously you are being taken. Follow up on action items you have discussed to agreed on. The idea is NOT to complain about people but to make your life easier. So make it clear that you DO NOT want any action to be taken against anyone. But you definitely need peace of mind.

On the other hand, if it’s an influencer who keeps the group together – Then consider reaching out to them directly, telling him / her your issues with “some” people and simply asking for advice on how to deal with it. Make sure, you exclude the person and you do not name anyone. Also, note it to them that you are considering some extreme actions and thus you need to know what he/she thinks. While this may come across a cheesy way to solve a problem, you are actually doing two things:
– Waking the superhero that lives inside every human since you genuinely asked for help.
– Making the source know that you now acknowledge their atrocities and that you are contemplating taking action without actually threatening them.

Shadowing:

Some of the largest disasters in the history of humanity were accrued due to someone getting overly ambitious. There are and there will always be conflicts between those who want to move fast versus those who like much steadier pace. The approach here is same either up the ante or apply one of the approaches discussed above. If you were to take my advice, go with the former! It’s your ball, you got to run with it. I can’t stop saying this, you got to rock! Everything else will fall into place.

Still don’t see a way out?
If you have read this far and still are getting a feeling that it’s not helping or that you have tried everything but it has not worked for you, then I feel sorry about your situation. There are no silver bullets to solve any of people-people problem since there is no single version of truth or right/wrong here. The pattern behind all my approaches is simple “Take control”. Blaming the world, complaining or submitting to it will only push you further to the edge.

“There is no ground for those who keep running away”

You need to stand for something or a take a stand when you know you are right. Giving up to bullies is actually supporting them. On the other hand, don’t overthink yourself into a mess. You may just be making all this up in your head. You got to deal with your own demons first.

Are you the one politicising?

“There is a serious problem with the word “People”. It considers everyone but me”

So every time I say the word “people” and mention the problems they have, I actually exclude myself and to be nice to the person I am talking to, I exclude him too. I am sure that’s the problem with a lot of us. So when one says, “oh there is a lot of workplace politics here”, they conveniently exclude themselves out of it. I think being honest and self-aware helps here! Not just you but the whole organization.

Watch your actions out. Watch what you say or how you behave with someone. You may get called into a group by your manager or other teammates for making judgments on someone performance. While the intent of the exercise may be legitimate, for the person being judged this may qualify as group-ism.

Your project is in deep trouble and you need someone to intervene to save the day for you. You pull your phone out and call the guy on your quick-dial favorites list, not the one who is actually working on the project. There you go! Under stress, a person who was bypassed here will feel their interests compromised and you have subconsciously committed a hideous act of “corporate politics”. While you may feel stupefied by this allegation, that’s exactly how I feel when someone ever talks about corporate politics. It’s more subconscious for a lot of people and of course, none of us likes to be villains.

So in general, you may want to consciously think and not take for granted the interests of your colleagues. Please be aware, people are touchy by nature! There is no point justifying yourself here.

Keeping away from negative influence and not fueling it Let me stop being nice for a minute. Do you gossip? Even if you don’t, it has a natural tendency to find you. Happens more with some people than others, given what their reputation is for entertaining gossips. Whats yours? I can see you nodding your head in disagreement. But here – let me redefine what gossip actually is. The dictionary definition of it is: “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true”.

There isn’t any problem with first half of definition – in fact, I believe its important for citizens of a free country! Its the later half that bothers me – “involving details which are not confirmed as true”. This is where gossips can get damaging. For you, it might mean a casual conversation, but for someone, it might mean the whole world! The best way to deal with these conversations is to carry an aura where people automatically refrain from bringing such conversations to you. The next best thing to do is not conform to any allegation, judgment or a complaint. Just in case you get exposed to such gossips without intent, you always know who is the right person to go and confirm facts with – its the person who is being talked about. Also, do me a favor, beat s**t out of the person who just got this hot news to you. Imagine, your one act can free the world from one of its largest workplace distraction – gossip! (Note: Please get the context. I am not promoting violence. I just want you to curb gossip resorting to as non-violent means as possible.)

Being subtle:

There is never “THE” perspective about anything. It’s always “A” perspective
Nothing in the world can be looked at from one perspective and judged solely based on that. When we know this, we learn to appreciate more perspectives. Suddenly everything we are confident about blends into reality and we get a maturity of acknowledging that my confidence can be unfounded. Just knowing this one fact, lends an immense amount of intellect and maturity to deal with situations where we are accusing someone of their underperformance or something which don’t think was right. In group or workplace settings, it helps us in knowing how much honesty and confidence is affordable and even if we have to pass on hard messages in a tough conversation, how to do it. What we don’t realize is it’s our tone, not content which creates trouble. Makes them feel victimized or targetted defeats the purpose of the conversation altogether.

Do not start advising people until you are asked by them for it. Giving someone a piece of mind without knowing the complete context, generally gets greeted with resentment and frustration. Some of them are shown upfront and some are kept for later gossip! This is more relevant for millennials. While we love giving advise (since we are entitled to an opinion), we hate receiving them.

 

Redefining Workplace / Office / Corporate politics as Stakeholder analysis and management

When does Workplace / Office / Corporate politics become inevitable in a positive sense:
– Some people care passionately about what they want to achieve. They will have their way. You may either be one of them or on receiving end of it.
– Irrespective how big or small organization is, there is no way to get an agreement from everyone on board. When waiting isn’t an option, then executing at the cost of goodwill is necessary. Thus may go right or wrong, but not acting at all is always wrong!
– You need to lobby to get a majority for what you believe in passionately. While that may look political, at the heart of it you know, there is no way people will support you till you walk them through “what is it in for me” questions.
– You’ll always find sloths! They are everywhere and are generally the weakest links. As the saying goes, you are as strong as your weakest link. So while the HR and management take action, you need to keep the show running. Your decisions though can be easily considered as victimization stunts.
– There goes a saying:
“The best way to demotivate and lose top performers is to reward mediocrity in an attempt to maintain status quo.”
So you got to take special care of those who are moving the mountain for you. You may be accused of favoritism, so what?!

So, why would you conventionally attach a negative connotation to politics? That runs our country – right? However since we have already put Workplace/Office/corporate politics in a negative light, let me add in my perspective: To me, its just stakeholder analysis and management.

Building relations and managing ego:
We were born with few relations – our mom, dad, brother, and sister. Nothing we did to earn any of them. Everything else we build beyond it is our interpersonal skills. However, a critical part of this is ego management. Anyone who has ever been part of any group would agree with this. In fact, I believe Entrepreneurs end up spending majority of their time in ego management (client, vendors, teams, investors and so on!). Now we don’t need to please everyone- since we can’t! But we need to know who matters and who don’t. That’s stakeholder analysis. No one is an exception here – until you have chosen to be an individual contributor and put a permanent jammer on your career. So you got to entertain people who matter to your work or life irrespective of your liking for them. No amount of self-justification will help here!

People reflect your actions:
The moment you acknowledge their needs, you’ll see they’ll start recognizing your needs. That’s where symbiotic relations gets cultivated. On the contrary, if you bypass them, hurt their ego, ignore them, step on their toes, make them feel less important, challenge without caring for their feelings, you get exactly that in return. Worse – then you don’t get to control how they decide to give it back to you.

Great stakeholder analysis:
A thoughtful stakeholder analysis will help you get things done! Period.

Here is what you need to do:
– Stakeholder analysis basics: Understanding how your work impacts your organization and clients. Whose (apart from you) neck is on the line if you mess up, whose job depends on you, whose responsibility are you and who are you responsible for. Who is getting paid for what you do and who is the one paying for it? Who is going to use your deliveries and how? There are more. It’s indeed another chapter altogether. But you are getting the drift right. Knowing your stakeholders and what matters to them is always the first step of any assignment you pick up. Bonus: it also saves you LOT of rework and headaches.

– Appreciate people dynamics. There are formal and informal groups. That’s a social behavior of humans and animals both. Get to know them. There are preferences that people have like you do, and just like you, they need it to be respected.

– Understand your team and organization hierarchy map. You may or may not be in the flat hierarchy organization. There are always some people who are credible, influential and are deeply respected, while there are few who are known to be ambitious about having their way.
– Mind your behavior: Like I marked before be careful about giving advice and the tone you use. While your content may be relevant, people get tone first. Avoid whining and complaining. Stop making casual remarks.
– Build relationships: That’s your equity and road to getting things done. Stretch an extra mile for someone without expecting returns. When you genuinely help, people acknowledge.
– Increase visibility: As discussed before in the article. Do not let go a single opportunity of informing people what you are up to and how is that impacting your career and organization.

I repeat…

Just go out there to ROCK!

and you may not have to worry about learning anything from this epic article!

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