There’s one skill everybody at work wishes they were better at, but you won’t find it taught in MBA courses: office politics.

Tales of political sabotage, power plays and turf wars are part of any organization’s history. Nonetheless, political competence is the one skill everyone wishes to have more of—but no one admits to it.

Political competence is the “ability to understand what you can and cannot control, when to take action, who is going to resist your agenda, and whom you need on your side. It’s about knowing how to map the political terrain and get others on your side, as well as lead coalitions,” according to Prof. Samuel B. Bacharach who wrote Getting Them On Your Side, 2005.

Many individuals have good ideas that, if implemented, could yield positive results for their companies. Sometimes these ideas fail because the leaders who propose them cannot gain support from key people.

Defining Political Savvy

It’s naive to suggest that all office politics are destructive and unethical. If you define politics in such a narrow and negative way, you overlook the value of political awareness and skill. When political astuteness is combined with ethics and integrity, it can produce positive results for you, your team and your organization.

By avoiding or denying its existence, you underestimate how political behavior can destroy careers, a company’s reputation and overall performance. If you define politics in only negative terms, you are naively under-political, which leaves you vulnerable to overly political, self-serving individuals.

Three Phases of Political Competence

Political competence can be developed in an ethically sound way with this three-phase process:

1. Map Your Political Terrain

First, identify all stakeholders—anyone who has an interest in, or who would be affected by, your idea—and how they will react. Some resistance is inevitable. You must anticipate others’ reactions, identify allies and resisters, analyze their goals, and understand their agendas.

2. Get Others on Your Side

Build your coalition—a politically mobilized group committed to implementing your idea because doing so will generate valued benefits.

How do you win support? You need to be credible. You communicate credibility by letting potential allies and resisters know about your expertise, demonstrating personal integrity, and showing you have access to important people and information. Through informal conversations, meetings and office drop-ins, you need to explain your position.

3. Make Things Happen

You must win others’ buy-in by making it clear there’s a payoff for supporting your effort and drawbacks for not joining your coalition. Show how implementing your idea will ease their workload, increase their visibility within the organization, or help them cut costs in their unit.

Once you’ve persuaded people to join your coalition, you’ve established a base that will legitimize your idea. Coalition members will then use their networks to evangelize for you.

Mastering only certain parts of the three identified phases will not yield success. Some people sabotage themselves by failing to complete all three phases when attempting to generate and implement change.

Reducing Risk through Politics

There are risks with any course of action you take. You sometimes have incomplete or inadequate information when making a decision. Building a coalition through dialogue with its members pushes valuable information to the surface.

You are open to criticism and politically vulnerable whenever you make a decision. Politically competent leaders reduce risk by getting as many people as possible on their side. Building a coalition is a search process for the best solution.

Building a coalition, bringing people together and solidifying/expanding your base will leave you less vulnerable to criticism. It’s more difficult to attack a leader who has built a large base of support throughout the organization.

Resources on Office Politics

Bacharach, S. 2005. Get Them on Your Side. Adams Media Corp.

Brandon, R. & Seldman, M. 2004. Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Free Press.

Kleiner, A. 2003. Who Really Matters : The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success:. Doubleday.

Author's Bio: 

Patsi Krakoff, Psy. D. writes articles for business and executive coaches and consultants. She provides articles on leadership and executive development for sale, and formatted into customized newsletters. Get Patsi's Secrets of Successful Ezines 7-Step Mini-Course to learn what you need to know to publish a successful ezine.