Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 10;   March 7, 2001: Workplace Politics Is Not a Game

Workplace Politics Is Not a Game

by

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 balls

We 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Appreciate Differences  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenNPiljmygmaWLtohIner@ChacaZMyGrQaRvlJgsUsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A bristlecone pine in the Great Basin National ParkExtrasensory Deception: Part II
In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.
Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.
The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New JerseyThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part II
Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
Donald Trump, a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2016Allocating Airtime: Part I
The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternWorkplace Anti-Patterns
We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life, including the workplace. Why? What are their features?

See also Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenQsoajFlQiFpFNYbyner@ChaczrgknEntqIIRxVlloCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.