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          Most times the Monthly Memo does not delve into the dicey world of human psychology, but I will just dip a toe in with this message. I don’t pretend to understand the inner working of anyone’s psyche, but if I can shed some light on correctly communicating in the world of workplace politics, I think it can be valuable.

           This topic is referenced a lot in many workplaces. Often it is with a sneer. “So-and-so got the promotion/sale/job by playing politics!” the offended speaker will say. And to that I might answer, “Yep. And what can you learn from that?” Be sure you aren’t simply using “politics” as an excuse for something that didn’t come your way. It’s a ready crutch, but not for people who really learn from the atmosphere around them.

           First, it is important to understand politics EXISTS in the workplace. Recognize it for what it is and try to evaluate how much it plays a role in your workplace. Are you in a politically charged atmosphere where people regularly go around the written rules to get things done? Or is it more subtle? And how do you view it? Do you hate it or do you love playing the game and seeing what can happen in the margins?

           Second, realize what workplace politics IS. What it really comes down to is the use and distribution of POWER. Who has the power, really? Is it the boss? Can it also be someone without the official title, but a person who has access to information? When you make a presentation to a group of decision makers, who is the MAIN decision maker? If you have a great relationship with that person are you “playing politics” or just being smart?

           Also, factor in the realities of human behavior. Who are we likely to listen to when making a decision? Just the people with the cold, hard facts or someone we also like? Is that “politics” or just the reality of how we are wired? Ignore these realities at your own peril!

           Finally, all of this should inform how you communicate within the workplace. Does that mean you “put on an act” every day with an eye to getting what you want? No, I don’t think so. But if you go about your business completely ignoring the “political” world around you, you are really missing out in your understanding of how things get done. Never compromise your ethics or break the law in pursuit of a goal, but also understand there often is an “official” way to do something in life as well as an “unofficial” way. It’s good to know and recognize both!

           What got me thinking about this? I am currently reading a book called The Secret Handshake by Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Ph.D. It is an interesting read on all things political in the workplace and can be especially helpful to anyone who is stumped by how things really get done at work.



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Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: