Beyond Workplace Politics: Using Social and Emotional Competencies


In recent months many global health matters, along with economic and employment issues have been debated in countless working environments, and now in the past few weeks race and justice demands by many are also being debated around the water cooler or in the lunch room at work.


Opinions are wide and varied regarding what suitable or appropriate solutions look like, and in may workplace environments these debates have been mixed in with the normal workplace politics, or as some see them, workplace shenanigans. Unfortunately they will continue to rage on. Inevitably, workplace politics and debates at a worksite about many local, national and global events or cultural issues will always occur. There are many negatives associated when Workplace Politics is out of control, and they should not be ignored by leadership.


Politics reduces the productivity of individuals, and eventually the organisation will be at a financial loss. Politics increases stress and also spoils individual and interdepartmental relationships. Some employees indulge in politics simply to win appreciation or favour from their superiors, and in doing so harm the reputation and relationship with their fellow workers.


However, there are many ways that leaders can produce Win-Win situations in office politics.


Understand you have a choice:


You have a choice regarding your involvement and opinions expressed. The most common reactions to politics at work are either fight or flight. It’s normal human reaction for survival in the wild, back in the prehistoric days when we were still hunter-gatherers. Winning requires you to consciously choose your reactions to the situation or opinions being bantered around at work. Remember you have a choice in choosing how you feel and react. So how do you choose?


Know your end game:


Talk it out intelligently once you have a position, be careful not to speak impulsively in the heat of the moment just to try and win there and then. Try and bring the debate or discussion back to how it impacts the workers and the business and what impact it will have on achieving business objectives. Discuss the pros and cons of each option or side. Everyone should want the business to be successful; if the business doesn’t win, then nobody in the organisation wins. By learning to steer the discussion in this direction you disengage from petty differences, and position yourself as someone who is interested in keeping the peace and getting things done. Your boss will also come to appreciate you as someone who is mature, strategic and can be entrusted with bigger responsibilities.


Be a positive influence:


In any workplace there are often issues which we have very little control over. It’s not uncommon to find corporate policies, customer demands or unrealistic expectations made by the boss which affect most everyone. Gossiping and complaining are normal responses to these events that we cannot control. Think about it, other than a short term emotional outlet or burst of frustration, what positive results does gossiping really achieve? In most instances, none. Instead of feeling the victim and being angry about the situation with others, focus on the things that you can do to influence the situation — focus on your circle of influence. This helps overcome the feeling of helplessness. It removes the victimised feeling, and also allows others to see you as someone who knows how to operate within given constraints. Constraints are everywhere in the workplace, we all have them no matter what level you operate in. With this mature and balanced approach, your boss will also come to appreciate you as someone who is understanding and positive.


Remain neutral:


It is easy to find yourself in an awkward position in between two power figures who are at odds with each other – just another day of office politics. You find yourself being thrown around while they try to outwit each other and defend their own position. Try to focus on the business objectives and don’t take a side with either of them – even if you like one better than the other. Ensure there are good healthy and clear open communications between everyone.
By not taking sides you’ll help to direct conflict resolution in an objective manner and you’ll also build trust with both groups of people. That will help to keep the focus on business objectives or outcomes.


Never let it become personal:


In office politics it’s easy to get angry with people. There will be times when you feel the urge to give that person a piece of your mind and teach him a lesson. Don’t. People tend to remember instances when they were humiliated or insulted. Even if you win or are on a side that does win the argument – you’ll pay the price later when you need help from this person (the other side). Remember what goes around comes around, To win in the office you’ll want to build a network of allies which you can tap into. Another reason to hold back your temper is your career advancement. Increasingly so, organisations are using 360 degree reviews to promote from within. Even if you are a great performer, the boss may have a hard time, if not a political uphill battle, to promote you if other managers or peers see you as someone who is difficult to work with.


Two ears and one mouth:


One of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ is to ‘Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood’. It’s important to practise and become a good emphatic listener with a genuine intent to understand, not how many people listen – with the intent to speak or respond simply to defend or advocate a stance or position. The best people managers and business leaders have learned to suppress this urge. Surprisingly, seeking to understand is a very disarming technique or approach to maintain. Once the other party feels that you understand where they are coming from, they will feel less defensive and be open to understand you in return.


Always look for Win-Win:


Not surprisingly, we include another one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. Workplace politics happens because of conflicting interests. In many of our cultures we are taught that to win someone else needs to lose. Conversely, we are afraid to let someone else win because it implies losing for us. It doesn’t have to be this way. In all things look for a Win-Win for both parties. Doing this will ensure that everyone truly commits to the agreed resolution and will not pay only lip-service to it. At the end of the day people simply don’t like to lose. You may get away with win-lose tactics for a couple of times, but very soon you’ll find yourself without allies in the workplace. Thinking Win-Win is the best long term strategy that builds allies and helps you win in the long term.


Next steps:


Our e-learning online course Beyond Workplace Politics: Using Social and Emotional Competencies will allow you to use Social and Emotional Competencies to lessen the impact of workplace politics in your career and working environment.


Workplace politics encompasses the power and authority processes and behaviours that are at work in a particular workplace. It is how the links between people in the workplace work. There are workplace politics at play in every organisation!


In 1990, two American psychologists (Dr. Jack Mayer and Dr. Peter Salovey) purported that if there was a cognitive intelligence or IQ then there must be an emotional intelligence (sometimes known as EQ). Daniel Goleman, the co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) theorised the social aspect of behaviour as a complement to the emotional. His definition expanded to: “Social and emotional intelligence involves understanding your feelings and behaviours, as well as those of others, and applying this knowledge to your interactions and relationships.” In his work with CASEL he developed five interrelated sets of Social and Emotional Competencies: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Good Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision Making. This short course will explore the social and emotional competencies and their role in working beyond workplace politics!

Leave a Reply