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Ethical Office Politics

Ethical Office Politics

Organizations are full of decisions and choices. The route to getting something done, to making a sale, or distributing a product, is full of decisions, some large, many small. However much effort goes into setting procedures and policies, it’s impossible to anticipate every choice that will be faced—especially since many of them are about choosing between options that are both desirable.

Organizations are social places too. The economic basis for people coming together to work in groups and teams may be to achieve things they cannot do alone, but since people naturally enjoy being with others, the social aspect of work is never far below the surface.

These two facts, taken together, explain why office politics are an inevitable part of any working environment. When choices need to be made that aren’t covered by explicit rules (and that’s most of them), there has to be a mechanism for choosing. Where resources must be allocated and shared, people seek to influence the outcome. And where people come together in a social environment, some will seek to lead and others be content to follow.

Office politics cannot be avoided, however many people regard them with distaste and try to avoid getting involved. Too often they smack of dirty tricks and the use of personal influence in the interests of a few, powerful individuals, conjuring up a picture of secret deals in back rooms and pay-offs in favors given and expected. Ethically, most instances of office politics tend to be dubious.

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Let’s assume that office politics are an unavoidable fact of organizational life. We can’t avoid encountering them. The ethical question then becomes how we act when we do.To make sense of this, you need to distinguish between three aspects of political actions:

  • Making decisions where there are no rules or precedents to guide you.
  • Handling the allocation of resources.
  • Creating a “pecking order” of influence.


Difficult Decisions

People are emotional creatures. They like to believe they use reason to work out what to do when there’s nothing much to guide them, but this is an illusion. They make decisions largely on the basis of emotions (fear, desire, hope, faith), then use reason to justify what they have already decided.

How does this work to create office politics? When you’re faced with a difficult decision and no clear guidance, you tend to think about what others will make of whatever you decide. Will they approve or criticize? Will you trespass on someone else’s turf? How much freedom do you have to make a decision without consultation?

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Fear is one of the commonest emotions, so it’s natural to worry about the outcome and seek reassurance. That’s where office politics comes in. By consulting someone who has influence, or avoiding anything that might upset a powerful person, you gain a measure of safety. Patronage, the power of advancing friends and protecting them from harm, is the main benefit of being politically influential. People who aspire to political power are keen to use and extend their patronage by offering protection and support to their friends when difficult decisions must be faced. Office politics play a significant role in every major decision. These decisions offers scope for extending patronage, lessening the influence of your enemies, and adding more grateful people to your circle of dependents.

Allocating Resources

Companies spend millions of dollars on complex procedures for setting and reviewing budgets to decide how resources are allocated. Yet however much financial and statistical firepower is expended in this process, these decisions can never be wholly rational or objective, because the choices are too complex and uncertain to be resolved in mechanical ways. In every budget decision, there;s an element of guesswork about how things will turn out. In some, there’s little else. Yet you have to choose.

You could toss a coin, but that wouldn’t look very good (though it would often be better than the means many organizations actually use). Office politics comes to the rescue. By instituting a process of persuasion and influence, you can seem to be making rational decisions, even where there’s nothing definite to guide you. Let everyone come forward and make their case, then decide which seems strongest. Of course, the strongest decision isnit always (or usually) made on the basis of rational considerations. Because we’re human, and fear reprisals from powerful people or hope for favors, we tend to give some people’s arguments extra weight. Besides, when the people who make the final choices also stand to benefit from them, a little horse-trading is inevitable. You back my budget and I’ll back yours. You thwart me and I’ll take any opportunity to pay you back in kind. That’s how the world goes.

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The Pecking Order

People are not created equal. Some are more assertive, more daring, more greedy or stronger than others. Take any group and you’ll find a hierarchy of power and influence. Some people long for power and will do almost anything to obtain it. Some long for riches, others recognition, and others want love (or at least the semblance of it).

When formal means of gaining recognition and position aren’t adequate (as is almost invariably the case), people exploit informal ones. Being seen as someone “in the know,” a “mover and shaker” or “a good person to have on your side” confers power. In many cases, this informal hierarchy of political influence is more influential than the formal hierarchy. The common process of “kicking someone upstairs” (awarding a grand-sounding title and position that lacks any real power) proves this.

The upper reaches of most organizations are strikingly like golf clubs. There are hosts of unwritten rules of etiquette and behavior that you break at your peril. Being the best player is not always the route to the top positions. There’s generally a ruling elite which guards its prerogatives fiercely and admits new members only after making sure they will fit in (do nothing to upset the power of existing people) and show the right stuff (speak and act in ways that the ruling elite approves). Formal decisions are preceded by informal discussions amongst those in power to ensure that nothing is done of which they don’t approve in advance. Horse-trading between the great and mighty is the accepted way of allocating resources and influence.

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Ethical Office Politics

If office politics are inevitable, can they be handled ethically? I believe there can, and it’s a crucial element in making a working environment that respects people and allows them freedom to grow and develop.

The basic principle of all ethical action is to promote happiness and well-being and do no harm. You could say ethics is the art of living together in a civilized way. Organizations without much ethical sense tend to live by some version of the law of the jungle. The strongest, most cunning and most unscrupulous people grab all they can. Weaker ones are exploited and despised.

In contrast, any ethical approach to organizational life requires self-restraint in pursuit of an ultimate goal: a business that operates smoothly and promotes the well-being of its employees, customers and the society of which it’s a part. An ethical business is one that is civilized; that it seeks to promote itself as part of a civilized community.

Ethics are always needed where you face choices. The basis for an ethical approach to politics at work is simple. You need to consider your actions in the clear light of the most likely result. Emotions are a poor guide. They tempt you to exchange short-term pleasure (seeing the hated colleague in trouble) for long-term problems (when he or she finds cleverer ways to mess you up in revenge). Rules, even moral ones, rarely cover more than a narrow range of situations. Besides, most people are good at reinterpreting the rules to allow them to do whatever they want—and act as injured innocents if they’re caught.

However you imagine what working life would be like without ethics, the result is fearful. Ethics are their own reward, not in the abstract sense of being right, but in the practical sense that a life without them would be unlivable. All you need to do is consider a greater purpose than your own immediate desires. Civilization has been around for some thousands of years. Sadly, it’s still something many people can’t seem to understand. An ethical approach to working life depends on standards of thinking and acting you impose on yourself, to free yourself from anxiety and regret and increase your satisfaction and happiness—and the happiness of everyone you deal with. An ethical approach to office politics is the same. Simple, isn’t it?

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Last Updated on February 15, 2019

How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever

Achieving personal goals deserves a huge amount of celebration but setting these goals in the first place is a massive achievement in itself.

While the big goals serve as a destination, the journey is probably the most important part of the process. It reflects your progress, your growth and your ability take control and steer your life towards positive change.

Whatever your goal is, whether it’s losing 20lbs or learning a new language, there will always be a set amount of steps you need to take in order to achieve it. Once you’ve set your sights on your goal, the next stage is to take an assertive path towards how you will get there.

The aim of this article is to guide you through how to take action towards your personal goals in a way that will help you achieve them strategically and successfully.

1. Get very specific

When it comes to setting your personal goals, honing in on its specifics is crucial for success.

It’s common to have a broad idea of where you want to go or what you want to achieve, but this can sabotage your efforts in the long run.

Get clear on what you want your goal to look like so you can create solid steps towards it.

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Say you have a vision on retiring early. This goal feels good to you and you can envision filling your days of work-free life with worldly adventures and time with loved ones.

If retiring early is a serious personal goal for you, you will need to insert a timeframe. So your goal has changed from “I’d like to someday retire early and travel the world” to “I’m going to retire by 50 and travel the world”.

It may not seem significant, but creating this tweak in your goal by specifying a definite time, will help create and structure the steps needed to achieve it in a more purposeful way.

2. Identify the preparation you need to achieve your goal

It’s easy to set a goal and excitedly, yet aimlessly move towards it. But this way of going about achieving goals will only leave you eventually lost and feeling like you’ll never achieve it.

You have to really think about what you need to do in order to make this goal possible. It’s all very well wanting it to happen, but if you just sit back and hope you’ll get there one day will result in disappointment.

Self-managing your goals is a crucial step in the process. This involves taking control of your goal, owning it and making sure you are in a great position to make it happen.

In the early retirement example, this would mean you will need to think about your financial situation.

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What will your finances ideally need to look like if you were to retire early and travel the world? How much money will you need to put into your retirement fund to retire at 50? How much extra savings will you need to support your travels? You could also start researching the places you’d like to travel to and how long you’d like to travel for.

Outlining these factors will, not only make your goal seem more tangible, but also create a mind shift to one of forward motion. Seeing the steps more clearly will help you make a more useful plan of action and seeing your goal as a reality.

3. Breakdown each step into more manageable goals

The secret to achieving your goals is to create smaller goals within each step and take action. Remember, you’re looking for progress, no matter how small it may seem.

These small steps build up and get you to the top. By doing this, you also make the whole process much less daunting and overwhelming.

In the early retirement scenario, there are several smaller goals you could implement here:

  • Decide to make an appointment with a financial advisor asking what financial options would be available to you if you were to go into early retirement and travel. Get advice on how much you would need to top up your funds in order to reach your goal on time.
  • Set up and start to make payments into the retirement fund.
  • Research savings accounts with good rates of interest and commit to depositing a certain amount each month.
  • Make sure you meet with your financial advisor each year to make sure your retirement plan remains the best one for you. Research new savings accounts to move your money into to reap the best returns in interest rates.
  • Start investing in travel books, building up a library that covers where you want to go.
  • Think about starting a language course that will help you get the most out of your travel experience.

4. Get started on the journey

Creating a goal planner in which you can start writing down your next steps is where the magic happens. This is where the real momentum towards your dream starts!

Create a schedule and start by writing in when you will start the first task and on which day. Commit to completing this small task and feel the joy of crossing it off your list. Do this with every little step until your first mini goal has been reached.

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In the early retirement example, schedule in a meeting with a financial advisor. That’s it. Easy.

As I mentioned before, it may seem such a small step but it’s the momentum that’s the most important element here. Once you cross this off, you can focus on the meeting itself, then once that’s ticked off, you are in a position of starting a profitable retirement fund…and so the momentum continues. You are now on your journey to achieving your dream goal.

5. Create an annual review

Taking a step back and reviewing your progress is essential for keeping yourself on the right track. Sometimes you can be moving full steam ahead towards your goal but miss seeing the opportunities to improve a process or even re-evaluate your feelings towards the goal.

Nominate a day each year to sit down and take a look at your progress. Celebrate your achievements and how far you’ve come. But also think about changing any of the remaining steps in light of new circumstances.

Has anything changed? Perhaps you got a promotion at work and you feel you can add more to your monthly savings.

Do you still feel the same about your goal? It’s normal for our desires to change over time and our personal goals need to reflect this.

Perhaps you’d like to take someone new with you on your travels and you need to take this into account regarding timelines. Are there any new steps you want to add as a result?

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Remember, reflection is a useful tool in realigning your goal to any changes and it’s important to keep on the right trajectory towards it.

Strive to become the best goal-setter you can be

Having personal goals gives you purpose and the feeling of becoming a better version of yourself.

But it’s the smaller steps within these big goals that the growth and achievement really lies:

  • Whatever your goal is, make sure you get specific on when you want to achieve it. This helps you focus on the necessary steps much more efficiently.
  • Research the actionable steps required to get to the end result and…
  • Break these down into smaller, manageable goals.
  • Create a daily or weekly schedule for these smaller goals and start the positive momentum.
  • Reflect each year on your goal journey and purpose, readjusting steps according to changes in circumstance or desire.

Keep going and always have the end goal in sight. Remember the ‘why’ behind your goal throughout to keep you motivated and positive.

More Resources About Setting & Achieving Goals

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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