When New Zealand’s Minister for Government Digital Services and Open Government, Clare Curran, first lost her portfolios and role in Cabinet – before eventually resigning recently – because she used her personal email in her work-related role didn’t declare important meetings in her diary, observers could be forgiven for lamenting the sordid world of national politics – but is the office much different?

You could argue that in the political arena you know who your enemies are and it’s all out on the table – the steel is bare. In the office, some would argue, it’s all cloak and dagger and cold steel in the back.

In inter-party politics, you know your enemy, but in the office you’re all supposed to be on the same team.

The reason that office politics exists is because working with people is always a compromise between what you want and what they want. Throw into the mix human emotions, and you’re sitting on a powder keg.

Psychologist Robert Hogan theorised that people are driven by three master needs in the workplace:

  1. The need to get along;
  2. The need to get ahead; and
  3. The need to find meaning.

Professor of business psychology at the University College London and at Columbia University, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, writes in the Harvard Business Review that the best managers recognise the psychological underpinnings of office politics.

“They do two things in response, they manage the way they themselves behave, and they are careful about how they motivate others.

“People who are perceived as a-political display high levels of congruence between what they say and what they do, and they are also good at rewarding others for what they were required to do, while holding them accountable for what they fail to deliver.”

Here’s three tips to help you manage through office politics:

  1. Listen

“Learn how to listen to people – your attention should be on what they’re saying when they’re speaking, not your response. By listening to people and giving them a chance to speak you’re gathering information you can use to tailor your idea to tie in with what they’ve got in mind,” says Davide Cervellin, author of Office of Cards: A Practical Guide to Success and Happiness in Large Organisations (and Life).

  1. Control your emotions

“There is a way to survive and even thrive in a workplace where the politics are out of control. It’s a mental technique. You have to get control of your emotions. Can you do that? One of the things that make office politics so difficult is that we can easily get emotionally caught up in the drama around us,” says Liz Ryan, author of Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve.

  1. Be visible

“Do visible, important tasks: If such tasks aren’t in your job description, ask if you can take one on. Be sure everyone knows you did the work. For example, you might email key employees a draft of your project’s final report, ‘for feedback,’ ensuring your boss or rival doesn’t try to steal the credit,” says Mary Nemko, author of How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School.

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