Workplace Politics Is Not a Game

December 5, 2008 at 04:40 Leave a comment

by Rick Brenner

We often think about “playing the game” — either with relish or repugnance. Whatever your level of skill or interest, you’ll do better if you see workplace politics as it is. It is not a game.

Game ballsWe all know that workplace politics can affect our level of success and even happiness. Whatever your skill level, you’ll do better if you recognize that workplace politics isn’t a game in the usual sense. Understanding how it differs from sports or parlor games can enhance your chances of success.

Games vs. Politics
How to Deal with the Difference
A real game has rules that everyone follows. In politics, the rules change and they’re open to interpretation.
Appealing to precedent or to others’ sense of fairness doesn’t work. Think beyond precedent. Even though Martin’s request was denied, your own might be approved.
A real game has referees and judges. In workplace politics, there are no officials and there is no appeals process. Participants do whatever makes sense to them.
Seeking justice is a waste of time. Instead, try to achieve your goals by staying within your own ethics.
A real game has periods of play and rest — four quarters, nine innings, half time, a seventh inning stretch. Workplace politics is 24/7. It can be an extreme endurance test.
Monitor your own energy reserves. Avoid being consumed by the passions of the action. Rest when you can.
A real game has finite duration — eventually, the game ends. Workplace politics is endless. As long as the organization exists, and you work there, you participate in its politics.
Be aware that people might remember anything you do. Don’t do anything you would want to cover up later. Even if you’re never discovered, the knowledge can be a burden.
A real game has fixed teams of uniformed players. In workplace politics, there might be alliances, but they’re changeable, and you can’t always tell who’s on which team. Some people play for multiple teams.
Even people you trust can be more loyal to themselves than to you. You yourself might someday have to do something like that. Understand and accept that this can happen, and that we all do the best we can.
In a real game, the teams are similar in size, structure and mission. Each team scores in roughly the same way. In workplace politics, the factions differ markedly in size, power, and mission.
The resources available to political alliances are unique and unpredictable. Success depends on learning to use what you have, rather than acquiring what you think you need.
A real game has spectators who watch but who don’t actually play. In workplace politics, there are no spectators — we’re all affected by what happens. Some of us participate actively, some passively, but we all participate.
Playing for the audience is futile — most people are too busy with their own stuff to watch you. Only one person is truly worth impressing — yourself. Behave in ways you can be proud of.

Politics and games are similar in one important way — winning a game requires skills specific to that game. To be successful politically, we must learn to see things as they are. And we can begin by realizing that workplace politics is not a game.

Entry filed under: Psychology. Tags: , .

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