ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOU
There’s IQ and also EQ. IQ (or Intelligence Quotient) is raw, left-brain type intelligence. EQ (or Emotional Intelligence) is social, right-brain type intelligence. In life, it is not uncommon to see the less brilliant to become the most successful. Researchers argue that these individuals possess the EQ that make them more successful at negotiating organizational politics.
EQ was popularized in the mid 1990s by Daniel Goleman. He argued that:
Emotional intelligence gives you a competitive edge. Even at Bell Labs, where everyone is smart, studies find that the most valued and productive engineers are those with the traits of emotional intelligence—not necessarily the highest IQ. Having great intellectual abilities may make you a superb fiscal analyst or legal scholar, but a highly developed emotional intelligence will make you a candidate for CEO or a brilliant trial lawyer.Empathy and other qualities of the heart make it more likely that your marriage will thrive. Lack of those abilities explains why people of high IQ can be such disastrous pilots of their personal lives.An analysis of the personality traits that accompany high IQ in men who also lack these emotional competencies portrays, well, the stereotypical nerd: critical and condescending, inhibited and uncomfortable with sensuality, emotionally bland. By contrast, men with the traits that mark emotional intelligence are poised and outgoing, committed to people and causes, sympathetic and caring, with a rich but appropriate emotional life—they're comfortable with themselves, others, and the social universe they live in.
I don't doubt the existence of EQ. Its importance is due to the fact that humans are social beings. And social beings always create a hierarchy. And a hierarchy necessarily means the existence of politics.
Taking it a step further, EQ is important because it can help us master the inevitable politics of organizations.
By far the best discourse on organizational politics I have read came from the book “Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge” by Geoffrey Bellman, 2001. The title is intriguing enough and it is a good read.
Here’s what he said about organizational politics (with some editing on my part):
Successful people recognize that politics are inescapable. Politics run through organizations of all sizes from families to villages to corporations to nations. They are not basically good or bad; they are neutral, to do with, as we will.Political goodness or badness flows from the intent of undermining, giving and withholding, contacting and avoiding. Without the formal and informal political systems that exist in your organization, it would come to a halt. Or, maybe, because of the formal and informal political systems it has come to a halt. Either case demonstrates the power and importance of politics in your organization.We are not going to be effective if we ignore the politics of the organization.A DEFINITION OF POLITICSPolitics is the art of getting things done. Politics involves knowing who to work with and how to work with them. If you want to change the system, you had better understand how it works.THE REALITY OF ORGANIZATIONS AND POLITICSYou can try to avoid the politics of your organization but you cannot stay outside of politics. It automatically includes you as a force whether you include yourself or not. Others make you a player even when you do not see yourself that way.Some of our fears about politics come from the reality that it represents large and unknown powers outside our present understanding and control. There are no rulebooks about how to play the political games of your organization. It is unpleasant to be subject to rules you have yet to figure out. To the extent that you understand how the game is played, who makes the rules, and what your role is, you can make better decisions about your actions.WHAT IF POLITICS DID NOT EXIST?What if politics did not exist? How would things be different? Politics fills the white space around the positions in an organization chart. The real work gets done in the white space. This is where decisions are made, where influences work, where trust is built, where risks are taken, and where persons really reveal who they are.THE BEST WAYS TO DEAL WITH POLITICSA good working environment is not achieved by removing politics even if we could. Instead, we need to recognize that we are participants and players, regardless of our desire. The best results for you, as an individual player, come when your values and beliefs are synchronized with those of the organization.Accept the reality of politics. Do not waste time cursing political realities. Accept the fact that politics are a legitimate factor. Seek to understand it. Test your understanding on others by listening to their political views.You are a player. You cannot declare yourself otherwise because others will not let you. You may not be playing in the usual sense but you are a player. The role you play if that is your attitude is that of an outsider.Consider how politics might help you. As you experience minor successes, build up the political support you need to succeed. Take action that is good for the organization while holding on to your personal values. This is important because you have to know what you want. You cannot be happy unless your actions are in harmony with your beliefs and values.HOW TO BUILD A POSITIVE POLITICAL CLIMATEPolitics is based on established relations of loyalty and trust. Relationships are established best through one-on-one meetings.Find shared objectives and desires. Shared objectives and desires give others a reason to meet with you so discover what it is that you want together and need to talk about. This straightforward approach, when it works, undermines unspoken, behind-the-scenes negotiations.Take the larger, longer view. This is usually the more generous and flexible view. It balances the people whose concerns are more focused on immediate issues and thus have narrow views.Use openness to counter secrets. Politics often has to do with who talks to whom about what. Negative politics constrains the sharing of information. Develop a bias for sharing information instead.Learn to tolerate more ambiguity. Loaded political situations often push combatants to adopt immovable positions. Learn to hold your opinion in abeyance while you sincerely explore alternatives offered by others.Be willing to understand others. This is essential to dialog and breaks down political barriers.Remind yourself that understanding does not mean agreement. Negative politics often builds distances between disagreeing people. Set up opportunities where disagreeing parties can recognize their shared goals, clarify their disagreements, and explore alternative actions that all can support. Disagreement does not preclude collaborative action.HOW TO WORK THROUGH NEGATIVE POLITICAL SITUATIONSRemind yourself of the outcomes you want to achieve.Survey all of your options. Withhold judgment until you’ve surveyed all of your options.Of the options, which do you want to do? Which do you not want to do? What are you open or not open to doing? This step allows you to consider your politics in relation to other’s politics. This is where your values meaningfully limit the options you will consider.Decide which path will most likely lead you to the desired results while being consistent with your values. And, finally, after you make your decision, explain the reasons for your actions to others.