How do you navigate internal politics?

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This topic contains 20 replies, has 16 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 8 years, 5 months ago.

  • Author
  • #159197

    Steve Ressler

    Last week, I asked GLers in our daily newsletter “what their biggest challenge was” – I got a ton of interesting questions and challenges but one kept on coming up.

    Dealing with internal politics

    Many GovLoopers simply hate playing the game…but at same time you got to understand the game to get change done.

    What are your tips for GovLoopers on how to play small-p politics? Coping mechanisms?

  • #159237

    Henry Brown

    Be Aware! Don’t matter much whether one wants to “play the games” but often times understanding the the “logic” behind the process is a gigantic leap toward being able to affect change

  • #159235

    Peter Sperry

    When we do it or when people we like do it, it is called “demonstrating leadership by being attuned to interpersonal dynamics to advance organizational objectives”. We write articles and give speeches describing how important it is to excerise this skill on a regular basis.

    When people we dislike or those with competing agendas do it, it is called “playing internal politics” We write articles and give speeches about how it undermines employee morale.

    Either way, we get to add the articles and/or speeches to our resumes. Not that I am being cynical or anything.

  • #159233

    Do not be self promotional. Yes I break this rule sometimes and I am always sorry.

    Do not get into it with people. Back off, relationship first.

    Be yourself. Just explain to people when yourself means they will find you “different.” I always say, “Sorry, I am from New York so forgive me for being direct.”

    Laugh. Work is stressful and nobody wants to be around a downer.

    Forgive others for their mistakes but distinguish between mistakes and misunderstanding (ok) and malevolence (not ok – confront and get away from it).

    Work with good people. If you don’t like and trust your boss and immediate colleagues, change jobs.

    Say you are sorry when you are wrong, but then move on.

    Document interactions with difficult people.

  • #159231

    Jeff S

    In most cases its easier to beg forgiveness than to travel the labyrinth that is a request in goverment just go for it

  • #159229

    Kanika Tolver

    1. Brand Yourself as you play the game.

    2. See what you can get out of the deal as you play the game. (Training, Awards, a promotion).

    3. Adopt a flexible mindset.

    4. Learn to be a good actor. Sometimes you have to fake it to make it.

    5. Develop a clear and consise plan that consists of back up plans, ideas, etc.

  • #159227

    Kanika Tolver

    I agree.

  • #159225

    Couldn’t agree more.

    I would also add that you need to pick your battles- some things are worth fighting for, but give and take is necessary the maintain a successful status in the game

  • #159223

    Kevin Schafer

    I smile and say Thank you when my heart gets broken… However, I don’t this is working effectively, since I was suspended… 🙂

  • #159221

    Cynical, but true.

  • #159219

    Pat Lockett

    I’ve been reading this book and pondering how it applies to “office culture.”

    Trust: The Social Virtues and The Creation of Prosperity by Francis Fukayama.

    Building trust within your team is essential; Competing “outwardly” versus within the team; Engaging with co-workers as fellow humans (versus rivals).

  • #159217

    Scott Span

    First, take the time to understand the culture – that helped to shape the politics. Then, per coping, confront political situations as appropriate for that culture. Remember, you may not always be able to change the leadership, power, and politics of a system – but you are able to change and adapt how you navigate and respond to them.

  • #159215

    Marsha M Peterson

    I love this answer because, as much as we hate to admit it, it is true. Where we “stand” depends on where we “sit”.

  • #159213

    Marsha M Peterson

    Be forwarned–this is not good career advice.

  • #159211

    Create positive feedback. It’s kinda like when Thumper’s mom reminds him in the movie Bambi… “Thumper…what have I told you?” Thumper responds, “If you have nothin’ nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

  • #159209

    Bradley D.Olin

    Navigating office politics is a skill that is not intuitive for most. It requires an extraordinary amount of emotional intelligence and a baseline understanding of both the broader org. culture, and the culture within your division or office. Like anything really, it all boils down to communication and tact.

    In my former job there was a workshop called “Appreciating Workplace Diversity.” One would think it was all about learning to overcome prejudices and biases, but in fact, it was an exploration of the four general types of workers using a personality assessment called “True Colors.” Once you understand the personality types of your colleagues, bosses, subordinates, and officials, you can better adapt to meet their own perceived needs and expectations. I found that it was a huge tool for success. For the record, my True Colors are Strongly Blue and Orange, some Green, and minimal Gold.

  • #159207

    Samuel F Doucette


    Good rules to live by! In my environment, politics is everything — which I abhor. However I also realize that it makes the world (my world) go around so I play the game and also try to keep my integrity intact. Here are my rules:

    1) Tell the truth and give honest, unbiased advice and analysis. However, do this in a way that does not poke anyone higher than you in the eye.

    2) Try to understand where you and your leadership chain “grew up.” By this, I mean look at your leadership’s background and try to analyze the organizational culture out of which they came. This gives clues into their leadership/management style and how it may conflict or complement yours.

    3) Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes to your peers and subordinates (if you have them). They most likely know anyway if you were wrong, so what’s the point in hiding it.

    4) As much as possible, put things in writing. Even with a phone call, document/recap the call just to confirm what was said and who was responsible. I won over someone yesterday with that, and by putting my advice in writing after giving it in a telecon, I was able to give this person something solid to go back with through her chain of command.

    5) Treat people as the adults most of them are, and most likely they will surprise you by acting that way. If they do not win the trust you demonstrate to them, then tightening the reins is necessary until they demonstrate trustworthy behavior again.

  • #159205

    Great advice.

  • #159203

    Simon Pleasants

    In office politics, fear of blame is the elephant in the room. Every bureaucracy, therefore, is a giant blame avoidance machine.

    The people who gain ascendancy in bureaucratic organisations are often those who have managed — by fair means or foul — to avoid the potential for, and the ascription of, blame. Like circus performers, they have often prevailed over risks that were perceived rather than actual. They are skilled at persuading others to take the actual risks; they:

    • convince people that if ‘decision X’ goes bad, they’ll be able to claim that they did nothing wrong.
    • generate a culture of approval for a ‘decision X’
    • create fear of not making ‘decision X’
  • #159201

    Savannah Brehmer

    I fear that this may be the only way to get things done… I respect laws, and realize they were created for a reason, but at the same time, feel that they, (as well as the employees with job security and no accountability) can hinder making our government better. Know the rules, and then make sure you have airtight reasons for breaking them…

  • #159199

    Savannah Brehmer

    I’ve soothed more than one coworker by telling them to focus on the battles they know they can win. I think that is great advice.

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