Political dynamics in the workplace are not fair, but they are a reality.
There is a point in the iconic film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (if you’ve not seen it, repent right now), when Mr. Smith realizes that his expectation for how Washington is run, and how it is run in reality are two different things. He finds activities within the organization (congress) that are aimed at improving personal status or position. The activities are both devious and divisive.
Well, you may not work in Washington, but it’s entirely possible that you have experienced the same rude awakening in organizations where you've worked. Politics may have determined who got promotions and who didn’t, who seemed to be able to push projects through and who didn't, or who seemed to have the boss' ear.
Political dynamics in the workplace are not fair, but they are a reality. It can be tempting to capitulate and play along, but the results are guaranteed to frustrate you.
So, before you throw in the towel and give up on humanity, here are some tried and true ways to make a positive difference:
Work with others to find agreement on wins for the mission of the organization - Seek a shared, high-level objective. Even the political players in the organization will engage in a discussion about what’s a win for the organization (especially if it’s something he or she is personally proud of or strongly connected to).
Work with others to find a win for them - Show the other party that you have his or her needs in mind. You can gain a lot of traction if you can speak to needs he or she demonstrate but have not specifically asked for. The goal here is to get him or her leaning in a forward direction you both agree on.
Work with others to find a win for you - Now that you have goal alignment and the other person or team members understand you have their needs in mind, you can ask for the resources, authority, and freedom to go and be successful.
In short, mission first, others second, you last. It’s a counter intuitive play in a political “me-first” environment, but that is exactly why it works. Where others manipulate for their own gain, you use influence for the benefit of the whole team.
You may not be able to completely quell the politics, but you’ll make a positive contribution, and you’ll feel great about it. The worst thing you can do is capitulate. Office politics are a reality. Live in reality, but don't let it rob you of joy.