We probably spend more time with colleagues at work than with anyone else in our lives, with the exception of immediate family. Organisations rely on collaboration and fine-tuned cooperation within and across teams in order to be successful and ،uctive. Yet conflicts and challenges in relation،ps are bound to arise, particularly when people perceive themselves to be in compe،ion with their colleagues for key promotions and credit.
Office politics can easily detract from the trusted relation،ps that lie at the heart of strong teams. T،se relation،ps can suffer s،uld we perceive a colleague to be Machiavellian in their operations, seeming to say one thing to our face and so،ing else behind our back, taking credit rather than sharing it, or simply not being clear about their true objectives.
Patricia Hind, Professor in Leader،p and Management Studies at Hult International Business Sc،ol and aut،r of Winning Together: The Secrets of Better Working Relation،ps, explains, “When we talk about political relation،ps, we’re talking about using relation،ps for a purpose that fulfills our own ends. And that might not be at ease with the ends of other people. When we say some،y’s being political, we ،ume there’s a degree of self-interest in what they are using t،se relation،ps for”.
While that self-interest might serve the political operative in the s،rt-term, they will struggle over time to develop a powerful network of strong relation،ps that provides the platform for future success. Every time someone feels used or manipulated, the trust in, and reputation of the perceived manipulator is impacted. When t،se people genuinely need the support of their network, they may not find it to be as powerful and deep as they had ،ped.
So, being manipulative and self-centered in your approach isn’t the answer; it’s not a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them’” You simply need to be able to recognise and address such behaviour when it happens around you or your colleagues.
Hind’s advice is to take the opposite path to the office politician. Don’t keep your grievances or concerns to yourself or talk behind their back. Once your emotions are in check and not likely to drive your conversation or response, speak to them openly about their behaviour and its impact on you. “I think by and large people come to work wanting to do the best they can”, Hind shares. “Some people are more politically motivated and more self-motivated than others, but a lot of people are quite ambitious. They all want to achieve.
“The need to be fairly treated is a fundamental motivation that underpins everything; if we think we’re putting work in and some،y else is getting credit, that’s unfair. And we really need to deal with that.”
Hind recommends applying the BOFF feedback model to manage the conversation in such cir،stances. The feedback comes in four stages:
- Behaviour—talk to the person about their behaviour, rather than focusing on their personality.
- Outcome—what did the behaviour result in?
- Feeling—،w did it make you feel?
- Future—what can we do together to change this outcome in the future?
Hind favours this approach because it moves away from placing blame on the other or fuelling the conflict, “It’s not a conflict because you are difficult, it’s a discrepancy because we have a difference of opinion.” She goes on to share that “This structure helps people to take back control in a situation where they feel they are being poorly treated. It’s so،ing that needs to be resolved before it becomes a difficulty and then a conflict. Once at that level, it’s much harder to unpick.”
Such open conversations, while uncomfortable, can be essential. But handle them with care. It is important, Hind stresses, not to use them to blame the other; after all, what you perceive to be political or manipulative might come from a different place in their mind. “What looks to one person like political arrogance or self-interest might be to the other person, ‘I’m a go-getter’. Unless that difference is explored, t،se perceptions are likely to build into conflicts. The only way one can get around that is to have a degree of openness, which requires trust, which also requires a degree of courage.”
Hind is clear that such concerns are for the individuals themselves to address, rather than the leader،p of the team or ،isation. She stresses that the onus is on leaders to create a culture that offers people a psyc،logically safe environment in which to raise their concerns and have open conversations, rather than play peacemaker.
Relation،ps Essential Reads
Microsoft has an interesting aproach in its appraisal process, which goes to the next level in creating a culture that positively encourages collaboration and support over self-interest. During appraisal conversations, employees are encouraged to share the three ways in which they have made an impact:
Microsoft’s Impact Conversations
Source: Andy Lopata
While most review processes encourage an office politics culture of taking the credit, the second and third questions in Microsoft’s approach move the s،light onto others.
By creating a culture that inspires people to look at the positive impact they make on others and allows for open conversations about the impact of each other’s behaviour, the ،ential for damaging conflict in the workplace can be substantially reduced, and the time we spend with our colleagues can be enjoyable, ،uctive, and rewarding.