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I believe there are three types of office politics: toxic, tolerable, and win-win. When a lot of people think about office politics they often focus on the toxic and the tolerable. I will address the first two now, and then talk at length about constructive, win-win, office politics in a future post, so stay tuned.

I use the term “power over” borrowed from Brene’ Brown, a prominent thought leader to describe toxic and tolerable office politics. She doesn’t expressly use it in this context, but to me, it is most appropriate. Office politics involves the use of power and social networking to achieve individual and organizational goals. A good thing. However, a good thing in the hands of a dubious actor can sometimes be self-serving.

This form of office politics is often used primarily for the benefit of an individual or group at the expense of others and maybe even the organization. It is a nefarious tool used to gain resources or status.

Early in my career, I witnessed it on full display. A search committee was formed to fill an upper-level position. During the search process, one of the search committee members resigned from the committee, became a candidate, and then selected to fill the position. In my opinion, that person had an unfair advantage. They had access to others’ application materials and had developed a relationship with search committee members. Although there was something not quite right about that situation no one discussed it publicly for fear of retaliation. This is an example of position “power over”.

Peer “power over” comes in the form of gossip, misinformation, and withholding information to name a few. Once again, the purpose is to gain an advantage at the expense of others, especially those perceived to be threats. The attacks are often stealthy and indirect. In interviews after a loss, I heard boxers say, the punches they didn’t see coming hurt them the most. Do you recognize any questionable behavior patterns? If your situation is just okay or downright intolerable, Recognizing these patterns is important, but how you feel is even more so. How do you feel? It might be time for an office politics assessment. Go to my website and take the quiz and let’s discuss the results.