The term ‘office politics’ is always associated with negativity. Not surprising, since it usually refers to incidents involving one person trying to hurt or pull down the other for selfish reasons. Office politics manifests in many forms — taking credit for someone else’s hard work or spreading ill about co-workers and deliberately trying to tarnish their image.
‘Politics’ literally means the science and art of managing a government. It includes activities to promote one’s own political ideologies, negotiating with other political subjects, making and implementing laws, exercising force where required, and even strategising warfare. The question is, are these activities wrong? Are these indulged in for negative outcomes? Certainly not. However, no one can be really blamed for thinking otherwise. After all, over time, the word ‘politics’ itself has come to imply negativity, primarily because of how people have manipulated relationships and facts for their vested interests.
As Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced material business, Aditya Birla Group, rightly says, “We all have studied that the subject of politics includes the science and art of running an organsiation or a country, but these days it is misunderstood”.
“If good politics is being played for functional growth, team growth and organisational growth, it is fine”
Shailesh Singh, chief people officer, Max Life Insurance
Even when it comes to office politics, Mishra feels that if indulged in ethically and in a good way, there is nothing wrong in it. “It is possible for good office politics to be practised within organisations,” asserts Mishra.
Amit Das, CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company, also states that office politics can at times be beneficial for individual and the oranisation. “Politics comes into play when people have differences of opinion on a subject or matter, but from the organisational perspective, the end goal is common. Hence, office politics will have a positive swing,” tells Das.
How can office politics be practised right?
Talking to HRKatha, Shailesh Singh, chief people officer, Max Life Insurance, says that as long as politics is being played for good reasons within the organisation, there is no harm. Moreover, it should be indulged in for the benefit of others or for a noble cause in the organisation.
“If we lobby for a noble cause, then such politics can be harmless,” asserts Singh. For instance, if one really wants to do something for the good of the women in the workforce, and going through the official channels is not really working, then one can try to leverage one’s networking strength or influence the key stakeholders to make it happen. Practising such political tactics can actually be good.
Mishra cites another example. For instance, let’s take the case of two individuals — one shy and introvert and another outgoing and extrovert. While there former’s performance may be great, he/she may not try to build a relationship with the manager. The latter, on the other hand, may go out of the way to establish a rapport with the manager and other bosses, by greeting them every day or by saving a parking space for them and so on. The performance of both these individuals may be equally good, but at the time of appraisal, the latter may score browny points as a result of the rapport established with the managers and bosses.
“It is possible for good office politics to be practised within organisations”
Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced material business, Aditya Birla Group
While Mishra believes “there is nothing wrong in this” and that it only lead to a competitive environment, he also adds that other people will not understand this. They may call it bias and label it as ‘dirty politics’.
Das also believes that any office politics can be turned into a positive activity by doing a psychological cost-benefit analysis. This will assign scores/numbers to emotions and actions. The lesser the score of an attribute, the lesser the effort and importance to be given. “Such analyses can turn any office politics into growth,” explains Das.
Mishra and Singh have a slightly different view on how good politics should be practised or rather, where one should draw the line.
On the one hand, Mishra says that as long as nobody is being harmed in the process, leveraging one’s strong network, influence and power for one’s own or for the team’s benefit is fine.
However, Singh says that such politics should only be played for a noble cause in the company. This will ensure that the leader or the person indulging in it will climb greater heights in the organisation. “If good politics is being played for functional growth, team growth and organisational growth, it is fine,” admits Singh.
There is no way to escape office politics. However, one can definitely learn something by navigating through office politics. This way, one will also learn to develop essential skills. “Office politics to me is like an acid test. The ones who can clear this, will be able to build skills that help navigate, analyse, build equations, and neutralise negative energy,” opines Das.
When does politics become harmful?
As per Mishra, the bell curve has played a significant role in making office politics bad. People compete too much with each other and forget the real essence of achieving that one common goal of the organisation.
“Office politics to me is like an acid test. The ones who can clear this, will be able to build skills that help navigate, analyse, build equations, and neutralise negative energy”
Amit Das, CHRO, Bennett Coleman & Company
“If politics is played for self-interest and self-centered motives, it may get dirty after a while,” Singh adds.
Even in the text and story of the Mahabharata, the Kauravas played politics and indulged in games intended to harm others. However, on the other hand, Lord Krishna, who was with the Pandavas, used his ingenuity and shrewdness for all good things and positive outcomes. Therefore, the story of the Mahabharata is a classic example of good versus bad politics.