There’s no way to live in this world and avoid politics. It’s in our homes, schools, workplaces and just about anywhere else we turn. While there’s no shortage of people who claim to hate politics, escaping it is nearly impossible. Thus the important question is: which types of politics are you ready and willing to deal with?
The continuum consists of minimally, moderately, highly and pathologically political arenas. Whether you can function effectively in one or more of these arenas depends, to a large extent, on your preferred political style as well as how far you can stretch to accommodate your surroundings. Are you a political purist who believes that reward comes from just doing your job well? Do you detest even minimally managing how things are said, to whom, when and in what way?
If not, are you more of a team player? You understand that to get things done in some environments it’s important, within reason, to do what’s best for the team or project at hand. Trading favors, smoothing the path with interpersonal skill and engaging in relatively harmless forms of interpersonal management don’t trouble you.
If neither of these styles describes you, perhaps you’re a street fighter. People who fit this style have their eyes open for what works politically. They play along to get along, develop favor banks, help those who can also be of help, watch their backs, know how to verbally spar and obsequiously relent. These are only some of their often well-hidden skills.
Finally, there are the maneuverers. Few things are out-of-bounds in their games. They poison wells, dodge and weave to deceive, destroy obstacles in their way and have little regard for the aspirations or careers they derail or destroy. Too many maneuverers among the decision makers breeds pathological politics. Fortunately, pathological arenas usually self-destruct. Unfortunately, it can take some time and a lot of harm is done in the process.
So, where do you fit? If you are a purist and work in a highly or pathologically political arena, you likely drive home stressed to the gills. Your life is one of constant, negative surprises because you have not learned the ways of the highly political beast. If you are a maneuverer working in a minimally or moderately political arena, your skills of deception may be insufficient to pull the wool over the eyes of those who prefer to operate more honestly.
It’s useful for all of us to assess our political style or combination of styles and to ask ourselves whether we need to learn more in order to continue to work where we are or to be promoted. If that’s not comfortable, moving to another type of arena may be the answer. Not all street fighters are bad people. In fact, many get good things accomplished. But if you’re not a street fighter and that’s what is valued where you work, you may be in the wrong place.
If politics of any sort still seems distasteful to you, consider, instead, knowing your own parameters in order to avoid getting sucked into unethical political activities. Hating all politics isn’t the answer. Politics is an unavoidable fact anywhere people live or work together. Know what you’re dealing with and whether some change is needed. It far surpasses walking about blindly and letting harm come your way when a little knowledge could easily make all the difference.
Kathleen will be presenting a webinar on this topic—power and influence—for the University of Connecticut on October 14, 2014.