Five P’s of Office Politics

Office politics are a complex issue, especially when we are the subjects of it. Yes sometimes decisions are made to advance personal executive agendas or business profit at the “expense” of people. Yes the business “morality” is often in conflict with the morality of staff effected. On the surface, especially when we are victims of these politics, the reason may seem obvious – decision maker’s need for power. This simplistic view does very little to helping us understand or more importantly influence it.

This article is meant to unpack “office politics” dynamics to help you navigate them.

Let’s assume for a moment a few things. First, we do not have visibility over all the complexity the decision maker has (e.g. business and personal pressures). Second, there are likely multiple factors driving human behaviour.

Let’s dig deeper. Chances are, there are actually multiple dimensions to what we perceive as “politics”:

  • Passion – At times, person is motivated to peruse a specific action or decision because they are deeply passionate about that direction. They are simply excited about it. An example here would be doing pioneering new project.
  • Prestige – Need for recognition and reputation is often misunderstood for power because it is very self-centric in nature and sometimes related. But motivation is different from gaining power or avoiding loss of power.
  • Perspective – A strong point of view formed based on experience or research available to them.
  • Predication – Deep belief or conviction about specific direction, sometimes even despite contradictory data or proof.
  • Power – Either through the positive drive to gain power / influence or the negative version threat of loosing it. The negative one is often stronger.

We often assume people, especially above us, are motivated largerly by the last one… power. More accurate way of thinking about this is there are multiple factors at play, sometimes even all five of these.

Why does this matter? Because HOW we respond should be different depending on the mix and which one is the primary factor. Else our approach to influence this person will NOT be effective.

As an example for someone extremely passionate about specific direction, presenting evidence (perspective) or warning about peer pressure (prestige) will not be effective in changing their mind. Here are some of the ways you could tailor your approach influencing these individuals and their direction:

  • High Passion – Listen for words like “purpose” or “impact”. Focus on showing how your direction actually aligns with their passion.
  • High Prestige – Listen for works like “recognized” or “pioneer”. Focus on how their support of your direction will improve their peer / industry recognition.
  • High Perspective – Listen for words like “my experience” or “research”. Offer credible, unbiased, and ideally direct research and evidence that backs your direction
  • High Predication – Listen for words like “I believe” or “I’m convinced”. Focus on further understanding why they believe in their direction so strongly then show them your direction still fulfills on their belief / doesn’t threaten their belief
  • High Power – Listen for words like “strategic” or “position” or “advantage / disadvantage”. Show them how your direction will give them more power and doesn’t threaten their power

I hope this will help you influence, navigate, and in some cases accept “office politics” decisions.

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