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Organisational Politics – Get beyond the Egos

by Rob Cross on November 21st, 2010

Politics is just Personality

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting to a group of university students who’ve just finished their studies. During my presentation I asked the question: “What do you expect the professional world to be like?” Amongst the flurry of responses, organisational politics seemed to be a favourite!

“What do you mean by politics?” I asked

“People just being in it for themselves,” someone responded angrily.

In the discussion that followed, a simple conclusion was drawn; politics is nothing but personality – it is just the behaviour that results from the self-driven egos of ourselves and others! 

How do we deal with Politics?

If politics is nothing but personality, then dealing with politics is as easy as dealing with difficult people.

People who we believe to be ‘difficult’ are so because they disturb something in us. When we encounter politics (or self-driven ego based behaviour), we must recognise it for what it is. And more importantly, we must recognise it for what it disturbs in us.

The first step in doing this is to recognise that all behaviour of individuals is driven by some motive that’s ‘pure’ for them. Although this is sometimes very hard to appreciate, all people I meet are seeking to satisfy something that’s important at a very deep level for them. For example, I met a person recently who insisted on challenging every single thing I said. It turned out that she had been bullied early in life and for her, this form of challenge was actually a strategy of ‘attack is the best form of defence’, which when I heard the full story I could fully understand.

So, whilst the initial behaviour seems very self-focused, the motive behind the behaviour is pure for the person pushing it.

When we realise that all behaviour is driven by a motive that is at least pure for the individual, we can take the second step. This step involves responding to the motive not the behaviour. For example, with the person I met, rather than react negatively to her constant challenge, I could relax my own ego and help her to feel safe, hence responding to her deeper need. This point of relaxing your own ego when dealing with politics is the key. In the past you might have heard it being called; “being the bigger person”, but ultimately it is about responding and not reacting. Often when we deal with politics it disturbs something in us and hence we react. But, if you are able to focus on their motive and not their behaviour, then you can begin to respond instead.

A last thought…

When ever we experience something that frustrates us, such as office politics, it’s always easy to get drawn into as our own ego is tested. However, the key is always to recognise that it is disturbing something in us. By doing this you can draw yourself out of the emotion of the situation and focus on responding to the other person’s motive rather than their behaviour!

Read more about this in Grad Expectations: the essential guide for all graduates entering the work force

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