“Whenever there are two people in the same room, there’s politics.”
- Eugene J Webb (1934-1995)
Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor for over 25 years
One of my former professors made the argument that anytime there are two people in a room, there’s politics.
Normally the term "corporate politics” has an enormously negative connotation.
Politics = Bad
The reality is that politics simply describes the interplay between two or more people’s goals.
If you and a co-worker have conflicting goals, that’s politics.
If you and a co-worker’s goals align, that too is politics.
The first case just feels worse.
It’s politics in either case.
The key with politics that feels good (versus not) is the degree to which there’s alignment between goals.
The first step to aligning goals is to recognize 1) your goals, and 2) the other person’s goals.
If you have a fairly open relationship with the other person, you can often just ask them what they’re trying to accomplish.
However, in many cases, people are not always candid and open about their goals — especially if the goal isn’t socially acceptable to others in the organization.
For example, if your boss’s goal is to replace her boss — she might not be willing to tell you.
However, if your boss’s goal as Vice President of Sales is to hit the annual sales target for the company, she’ll likely be very open about that goal.
There’s a simple rule for how to be politically savvy. It’s quite simple really.
Help others achieve their goals.
There are two practical challenges with this simple concept.
1) You need to determine the other person’s goals through a combination of asking and observing.
2) You need to figure out a creative way to embed YOUR goals as a byproduct of the other person’s goals.
I’ll give you a simple example.
When you first signed up for this newsletter, I promised to provide you with help and assistance in developing case interview skills.
If you signed up, it’s fairly likely that your goal at the time was to gain familiarity with the case interview.
My goal was to build a website that would get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals.
Now, these two goals are not mutually exclusive.
Your getting better at the case interview does NOT cancel out my ability to build a website on word-of-mouth referrals.
My goal of getting word-of-mouth referrals to my website does NOT cancel out your ability to gain familiarity with the case interview.
In my case, I opted to provide a lot of free and useful resources to improve one’s case interview skills.
Many of you found the assistance helpful enough to suggest that others visit CaseInterview.com.
(This is the main reason why CaseInterview.com gets over a million visitors a year. Thank you for helping me achieve my goal.)
This too is a form of “politics.”
The key to being effective at “politics" is to figure out what other people want and help them get it in a way that includes you getting what you want.
To do this effectively, it helps to have the emotional intelligence skills to notice what other people care about.
It is impossible to be effective in this collaborative style of “politics” when you’re only oriented on yourself.
You absolutely must develop an external orientation (though not at the expense of ignoring your own goals either).
It’s the underlying ability to notice how others respond emotionally to the people and ideas around them that gives you the insight to be politically effective (in a way that’s welcomed by others).
To develop an effective orientation around others also requires you to have excellent emotional self-awareness and emotional management.
There’s a reason that in a heated argument, most people can’t focus on the other person... they’re too busy feeling irritated, angry, or self-conscious to pay attention.
Having a high emotional intelligence involves equal parts knowing (and managing) yourself emotionally, and knowing other people in the same way. The former provides the foundation for the latter.
If your education and professional development have provided too little exposure to developing your EQ skills, I invite you to learn more about my class on How to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to Advance Your Career.
I will be releasing How to Develop Your EQ later this month for a limited time. To join the notification list for the release and receive my emails about emotional intelligence, just complete the form below.