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Webinar report: Political Intelligence - understanding ‘Office Politics’ and how to make it positive

‘It’s people who are political, not organisations’

March saw the first of four webinars in our new series looking at ways to develop positive relationships. 

To get the ball rolling, the series presenter, Joanna Gaudoin, examined ‘Office Politics’.

Having worked in marketing and consultancy in large corporates, Joanna understands the business world and its challenges. In 2011, she established Inside Out Image, a consultancy firm specialising in workplace relationships and skills that are rarely taught in formal educational settings. Joanna’s clients include HSBC, The Chartered Institute of Securities & Investments, Joelson Law, AAT and Forsters LLP. Joanna can be contacted via her website or email her here - Joanna.Gaudoin@insideoutimage.co.uk 

The problem with ‘Office Politics’

In most organisations, there are people with varying interests, motivations and behaviours. Or in other words, ‘Office Politics’. It follows then that people need political intelligence to work effectively and build their careers.Research indicates that the negative aspects of organisational politics affect morale, productivity and profitability. They cause stress, increase conflict, deplete trust and often prevent credit being given where credit is due. For many people, ‘Office Politics’ is a barrier to career progression.


The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. ‘Office Politics’ can be a positive thing. It can:

  • Make things happen;
  • Facilitate change;
  • Create buy-in on projects;
  • Promote organisational cohesion;
  • Speed up decision-making; and
  • Help develop trust and transparent working relationships.

Getting to grips with ‘Office Politics’

A great way to contextualise ‘Office Politics’ is to consider the who and what of a given situation. Imagine, for example, entering the kitchen at work and two people who are chatting away to each other suddenly stop when they notice you’re there. Are they talking about you? Are they discussing something they don’t want you to know about? Either are possible. It’s also possible, however, that they’re being polite or that the natural end to their conversation coincided with your arrival. The option you consider most likely could be influenced by how you’re feeling that day – or even your relationship history with the speakers.

Are you seeing others as being political? If so, how do you think they’re seeing you? Similarly, is there a difference between what you’re seeing and what you’ve subconsciously chosen to see? Be aware of this self-fulfilling prophecy that can both enhance and damage your work relationships:  

My beliefs shape my behaviour. This influences other people’s behaviour. And this reinforces my beliefs.

How rife is negative politics is your workplace?

If any of the below statements are true very frequently at work then it may be there is a lot of negative ‘Office Politics’ to navigate.

  1. More time and energy are spent finding out who caused a problem, than is spent on finding a solution.
  2. Decisions come from nowhere so it's obvious they've been discussed in private for a while.
  3. Some people get the credit for work that was done by others.
  4. I often know (or get the feeling) that decisions have already been made on important issues, long before the ‘official’ decision meeting takes place.
  5. Many people seem far more interested in their own goals and agendas, than those of the organisation.

Spotting different political animals

People are political in more ways than one. Generally, there are four types of political animal:

  • The Donkey, characterised as solid, reliable, hardworking, surefooted and, often, stubborn;
  • The Sheep, seen as innocent, naïve, gentle, reactive, possibly nervous;
  • The Owl, respected as wise, observant, sensible, vigilant, considered and a good listener; and
  • The Fox, unflatteringly regarded as sly, sneaky, noisy, calculating and unpredictable.

These profiles are useful for determining how to work with people or for adjusting your own behaviour in different situations. For example, expect people being made redundant to adopt the donkey profile – their priority is no longer the organisation’s interest, it’s their personal situation.

The four key political skills

Concluding the webinar, Joanna touched on four skill areas that will help you navigate ‘Office Politics’ with just a few of the many tangible skills to employ:

  • Influencing: knowing how people work, so you can fit in with them and build trust. This is also about understanding what’s important to them and what they’re trying to achieve;
  • Communication: great communication starts with listening. Poor listening leads us to act on misunderstandings based on what we think we heard, rather than what someone actually said. Be consistent in your communications and consider what people will be thinking of you;
  • Networking: How can you make sure others feel supported and recognised? Go beyond the people you usually engage with and mix with people who are not like you. As more networking opportunities are taking place in person again, this is an opportunity to widen your influence; and
  • Factor X: or things that don’t fall neatly under other headings. Examples include putting your relationship above winning when conflicts arise, exercising emotional control in awkward situations and checking the intonation of your written communications – could they be read in ways you don’t intend?

The next webinar in this series is Having difficult conversations on 9 May. Register here.

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