Understanding and dealing with office politics

Published by mpume on

Every time we hear about office politics, it comes with a negative connotation. We think its “dirty” we think “power hungry” and other terms we can think of.

Contextualizing politics

The world of work is not necessarily defined by the organization you work for. The world of work in the South African context was introduced through a migrant labour system, people were forced into labour in terms of taxes and they had to be structured. Then they had to be introduced to office politics in the South African context.

The reason why office politics evoke negative emotions is that, in the South African context again, for a long time, in social settings people did not discuss office politics. Therefore, the concept of politics becomes polluted even when you invite it into the world of work. People then end up talking about politics only when an individual typically engages in wanting to better themselves in an organization, then people start to say this person is playing office politics. This can be related to self serving behavior that employees use to get a positive outcome for themselves. Because it is self serving and we are generally a society that does not subscribe to individualism, office politics then comes across as something negative or “dirty” to the majority of people in South African who have a communal upbringing. Whereas in communities such as America, it is normal to play office politics because you are regarded as ambitious and competitive.

As an employee, it’s important to understand what office politics are and how they apply to your workplace. That’s because almost every workplace has some level of office politics in its operations. When using office politics in a positive way, you can make more connections with coworkers and help facilitate change in your workplace.

The positive side of office politics

Office politics, also known as workplace politics, is the process of using social networking and power dynamics to make changes in the workplace. Though office politics often has a negative connotation, they can be used in a positive way to benefit employees of all levels.

If your organization displays signs of workplace politics, there are a few things you can do to educate yourself and understand your office dynamics in positive ways. When you get to know your office’s politics, you can learn how to use them in a way that is beneficial to you and others around you. Office politics can encourage goodwill among coworkers and increase employee motivation.

The following strategies can be used to address intensely political environments, and also help with turning politics into a positive tool:

Understand the organizational dynamics

Workplace politics can sometimes evade an official organizational structure. One way to deal with office politics is to observe how your colleagues and superiors navigate this structure. Also take notice of when people’s job title or superiority is disregarded in favor of those who hold power and influence in your organization.

Build relationships with colleagues

As you learn and come to understand the social norms of your workplace, you can then start looking out and start building relationships with your colleagues.

Learn about informal networks

Apart from understanding the formal organization dynamics, learn about the informal networks that exist in the workplace. Pay attention to how people interact with those who hold power versus those who have minimal power. Take note of which of your colleagues get along together and which colleagues seem to prefer avoiding each other.

Take advantage of your networks

As you start building relationships and expanding your network, you can leverage on your network as a means to offer support or collaborate on ideas for improvement. Having a strong professional network can also assure you that you are confident in navigating minimal to moderate workplace politics.

Improve your confidence

As you learn to navigate workplace politics, you might also find that the way you conduct yourself, how you stand by your values and the ways that you interact with others ultimately improves your overall confidence. Having confidence in the workplace can be essential in managing not only your job duties but the political atmosphere of your organization.

What factors contribute to workplace politics?

There can be some factors that contribute to the level of workplace politics, the least of which can sometimes arise from an employee’s desire to advance their career. Also, the factors that contribute to the presence of workplace politics can be organizational in nature or individual factors playing a part to enable the political atmosphere. See examples below:

  • The formation of cliques due to lack of business organization, or due to never-ending rumors and office gossip.
  • A lack of supervision or enforcement of protocols.
  • Managers and other superiors of the organization who may be arrogant, judgmental or otherwise harsh and unapproachable.
  • Sometimes employee’s invest so much in a company and this can lead to manipulation of promotion, advancement or favors they feel they are entitled to.


To borrow Aristotle’s words “man is by nature a political animal.”  So whether you choose to participate in corporate politics or not, politics have a big influence on what happens to you, and your team, so it’s hard to be indifferent to them. Good politics include acceptable ways of getting recognition for your contributions, having your ideas taken seriously, and influencing what other people think and what decisions get made. Bad politics are, at the core, about promoting oneself by any means necessary, and about being sneaky, perhaps even immoral, and intentionally harm someone else for personal gain.


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