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Politics is Inevitable – Not Simply Good or Bad

Stephen Billing, March 19, 2009

In which Chris Rodgers expresses my perspective on organizational politics better than I could myself, and I conclude that politics is inevitable in all human and organizational relating.

In my previous post on organizational politics I pointed out that politics is seen as bad. Then Chris Rodgers commented on that post, making the same point most brilliantly I thought, referring to Beverley Stone’s “Confronting Company Politics,” that “The term ‘company politics refers to all the game-playing, snide, ‘them and us’ aggressive, sabotaging, negative, blaming, ‘win-lose’, withholding, non-cooperative behaviour that goes on in hundreds of interactions everyday in your organisation.” Yes, I thought, what a succinct quote that sums up how politics is seen.

Further shooting home this point, Chris mentions Samuel Culbert’s observation in “Mindset Management” that “It’s almost as if people treat organizational politics as a low-grade virus infection, hoping that if they ignore it and think positively it will go away.”

It is as if there is some requirement that for responsible members of the organization, "playing politics" should be beneath them. Comparing organizational politics to an inconvenient virus is particularly apt in this respect.

Chris then goes on to point out that that savvy political behaviour makes a big contribution to successful organizational change and that acting politically in a skillful way always includes the requirement to provide, post-event, a rational description of what happened, a description of what happened in which the political elements disappear.

Chris has said this all so well, better than I could say it myself.

My point is that organizational politics is an inevitable result of the presence in all organizational relating of power differences between people. Power differences arise as a result of the relative need each person has for the other and this need is a consequence of many factors, including the relative authority positions between people, the degree of enrolment that each requires of the other, and many other situational elements.

Politics is portrayed in the literature, and in much every day language, as being "bad." My point is that, rather than being simply good or bad, politics is an inevitable component of all human, and hence all organizational relating. We cannot step outside the politics of the power differentials present in our relating to other human beings. Even if we claim not to get involved in politics or if we follow advice that purports to tell us how to avoid company politics. There are only subtleties of the effectiveness at which we play the game.

So we may as well get good at it. "I never get involved in organizational politics" is, in itself, a political statement.




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