Politics in Organization

Politics in Organization

The mobilization of power in an organization gives birth to the process of politics. Organizational politics includes actions by individuals or departments in an organization for acquiring, developing, and using power and other resources for obtaining desirable outcomes at times of uncertainty or disagreement.

Political behavior includes attempts by individuals to influence the behaviors of other individuals as well as the course of events in the organization to guard their self-interest, needs, and goals.

For example, a manager tries to undermine the work of another manager’s team to gain favor with his/her superiors. However, categorizing behavior as political implies a judgment that some individuals in the organization gain something at the expense of other individuals.

A clear understanding of political behavior and its consequences is however needed to understand the benefits and limitations of politics in organizations.

The political system of an organization represents how power is applied and distributed in the organization. Comprehending the political system of an organization is crucial for an individual to operate effectively and attain organizational objectives.

A manager, exhibiting power, has a strong influence on the political structure of an organization, which affects decision-making, conflict management, employee recognition, and support.

Power is crucial to the formulation of strategies in organizations. This is because decisions regarding whether to continue with the previous strategy or formulate a new one, are always political in nature.

Such decisions may threaten the present distribution of organizational resources in terms of salaries, investments, recruitment, or venturing into new businesses. For example, a member of the senior management in an organization may favor a certain vendor for the supply of raw material, and accordingly advises the board of directors.

If the board of directors agree, the organisation will have to buy specialised machinery. The expense of buying the machinery may result in lesser investments in the future than what has been planned.

On the other hand, negative organizational politics may prove destructive for an organization. Negative politics has been identified as one of the major sources of stress within existing organizations.

It includes the use of destabilizing methods for promoting personal agendas, which undermine organizational objectives as a whole; distract other individuals; and compromise the interests, welfare, and goals of other employees.

Negative political tactics involve filtering or distortion of information, non-cooperation, retaliations, dishonesty, sabotage, and coercions.

The figure shows some common political tactics displayed by individuals in an organization:

Common Political Tactics
Taking counselThe individual exercise great caution in seeking or giving advice
ManeuverabilityThe individual maintains flexibility and never completely commits himself to any one position or program
CommunicationThe individual never communicates everything she knows. Instead, she withholds information and/or times its release carefully.
CompromisingThe individual accepts compromise only as a short-term tactic while continuing to press ahead with his own agenda.
ConfidenceOnce the individual has made a decision, he must always give the impression of knowing what he is doing, even when he does not.
Always the bossAn atmosphere of social friendship limits the power of the manager, thus the manager always maintains a sense of distance and separation from his subordinates.
(Source: Buchanan, D., and Badham, R. Power, Politics, and
Organizational Change. London: Sage 1999,193.)

Political behavior can thus assist in meeting legitimate individual and organizational needs or bear negative outcomes. In any event, managers and employees need to understand the concept and role of political behavior within organizations, because it is an inevitable phenomenon.

Politics in organizations cannot be avoided, but it needs to be managed. For a detailed understanding of politics in organizations, it is important to be aware of the factors that contribute to the existence of politics and the role of politics in determining organizational culture.

Factors Contributing to the Existence of Politics

Several research studies have been conducted to identify the factors that contribute to the existence of politics within organizations.

These factors may broadly be classified as individual factors and organizational factors. Both individual and organizational factors may have a positive or negative impact on the organization.

The figure shows the factors that contribute to organizational politics:

Let us discuss these factors further:

Individual Factors

The individual factors that contribute to organizational politics are as follows:

Need for Power

The need for power is a basic motive that influences and controls other individuals and an individual’s own environment. Consequently, individuals with a greater need for power are more likely to engage in political behavior within organizations.

Successful managers often have a greater desire for power. The desire to impact, control, and influence others are often related to effective managerial behavior, equitable treatment, and higher morale of subordinates.

However, the need for power may not be useful for effective management. It can be classified into the following:

Personal Power

Managers who stress attaining personal power attempt to dominate other individuals and demand loyalty for themselves instead of the organization.

Institutional Power

Managers who stress attaining institutional power exhibit a socially acceptable need for power. These managers create a favorable political culture for effective work and the development of subordinates.


Niccolo Machiavelli was a 16th-century Italian philosopher, whose writings include a set of propositions to obtain and hold governmental power. His work is associated with the use of deceit and opportunism in interpersonal relations.

Accordingly, Machiavellians are individuals who deploy unscrupulous means to influence other individuals for their own purposes.

Machiavellianism is characterized by the following:

  • Use of guile and deceit in interpersonal relationships
  • Cynical view of the nature of other people
  • Lack of concern for conventional morality

Machiavellians tend to agree with the following notions:

  • The best way to handle individuals is to communicate only what they expect to hear.
  • Individuals who trust others completely seek trouble.
  • Never tell others the actual intention behind a task, unless it is beneficial to do so.
  • It is rewarding to flatter influential people.

Machiavellians are often able to influence other individuals and tend to initiate and manipulate social interactions in organizations. Consequently, Machiavellianism is associated with an inclination to engage in political behavior.

Locus of Control

Locus of control includes the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them. There are two types of locus of control:

Internal Locus of Control

Individuals having an internal locus of control believe that events are a consequence of their own behavior.

External Locus of Control

Individuals having an external locus of control believe that other individuals, circumstances, or fate determines the occurrence of events that affect their lives.

Individuals with an internal locus of control are more likely to influence other individuals in the organization and assume that their efforts would bear results.

Risk-seeking Tendency

Individuals differ in their readiness to bear risks or their risk-seeking tendencies and hence are classified as:

Risk Avoiders

Individuals who avoid taking risks

Risk Seekers

Individuals who like the idea of taking a risk

Engaging in organizational politics is not free of risks and may have several negative consequences such as low-performance ratings, demotions, lack of influence, etc.

Therefore, risk seekers are more inclined towards politics in organizations, whereas risk avoiders tend to avoid engaging in political behavior owing to the possible negative outcomes.

Role of Politics in Determining Organisational Culture

Organizational culture refers to the values and behaviors that contribute to the distinctive social and psychological environment of an organization. It is a system of shared meanings and beliefs, held by members of an organization, which determines how they act toward each other.

A favorable organizational culture provides both the organization and its employees with direction and stability.

The political environment of an organization has a direct impact on its culture. Positive aspects of politics, such as strategy and decision-making, conflict management, employee recognition, support, etc., may improve the organizational culture, but negative politics may ruin it.

Negative politics often referred to as workplace politics, is the use of power and social networking within the organization to influence individuals to serve personal interests without considering its effect on other individuals and the organization.

According to a study conducted by Talent Scout (Surviving Office Politics), “18% of an administrator’s time (more than nine weeks out of every year) is spent resolving conflicts among employees”. Such conflicts are usually caused due to workplace politics leading to problems for employees to work together.

Organizational culture includes the way individuals behave with one another, which forms the basis for teamwork. To improve the way an organization manages information and new developments, changes need to be introduced.

However, the introduction of a change of any kind always meets resistance. This tendency to resist change on the part of individuals contributes as the most significant factor to workplace politics.

Workplace politics has a direct impact on group cohesiveness. Politics gives rise to secrecy, egocentric behavior, non-cooperation, and emotional instability, all of which affect employee teamwork.

Unfavorable attitudes among employees affect the organizational culture and consequently the overall performance and success of the organization.

Importance of Personality Development for Encountering Politics

Personality can be defined as a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by an individual that distinctively impacts his/her cognitions, motivations, and behaviors in different situations.

Personality is an outcome of the basic personal values and personality traits of an individual, which also determines the political behavior of the individual:

Personality Traits

These refer to the characteristics or qualities that distinguish one individual from another. For example, being ambitious, persistent, courageous, etc. are personality traits of individuals.

Personal Values

These refer to the broad goals that act as guiding principles for individuals such as honesty, dignity, etc. Basic values differ for each individual, which explains the reason for the different personalities individuals possess.

Personal values and traits are innate, genetically influenced, and develop during childhood, whereas political attitudes develop in adulthood. Based on this fact, researchers and scholars concluded that personality traits and values affect the subsequent development of political attitudes of an individual.

On the contrary, political attitudes emerge only after an individual begins to involve in a political domain. Political attitude refers to the positive or negative evaluation of situations, individuals, objects, events, activities, and ideas relating to politics.

Therefore, the political attitudes of different individuals in an organization determine their political behavior. Although personality traits and values build during childhood, an organized development of personality can bring about a change in an individual’s political attitude.

For example, an employee believes people to be honest at face value and is loyal to a certain senior manager. However, influenced by rumors in the organization, he/she starts doubting the senior manager and eventually his/her loyalty weakens.

The five-factor model of personality, often referred to as the Big Five Model, supports that five basic dimensions trigger most of the significant variations in an individual’s personality.

Focussing on these dimensions helps to reshape political attitudes and thus the political behavior of individuals in an organization.

Let us discuss each of the five traits, often referred to by the acronym OCEAN, further:


This dimension defines an individual’s array of interests and interest in novelty. Extremely open individuals are generally creative, inquisitive, and artistically sensitive. On the other hand, individuals who lack openness towards novelty tend to be conventional and find comfort in familiarity.

Organizations need to focus on developing this personality trait to increase employee adaptability toward change. It is commonly observed in organizations that the introduction of change in the way of a new product, strategy, policy, organizational structure, etc. tends to give rise to workplace politics. Openness amongst employees may help in overcoming anxiety to change.


This dimension defines the extent of an individual’s reliability. An individual with high conscientiousness is usually responsible, organized, dependable, and persistent. On the other hand, individuals who score low on conscientiousness tend to get distracted easily and are usually disorganized and unreliable.

Organizations need to focus on developing conscientiousness to avoid individuals getting easily distracted, which gives rise to workplace politics.


This dimension defines an individual’s comfort level with interpersonal relationships. Extroverts tend to be sociable, self-confident, and friendly. On the other hand, introverts tend to be reserved, shy, and discreet.

Organizations need to focus on this personality trait to minimize the difference between extroverts and introverts to promote amiable relationships among all individuals. A better relationship between individuals in an organization reduces conflicts that give rise to workplace politics.


This dimension defines an individual’s tendency to defer to other individuals. Highly agreeable individuals are usually cooperative, warm, and credulous. On the other hand, people who are less agreeable are cold, offensive, and opposed to others.

Organizations need to focus on developing this personality trait to reduce ambiguity in opinions, thoughts, and attitudes toward other individuals, objects, and events to eventually reduce workplace politics.


Also referred to as the emotional stability of an individual, this dimension defines an individual’s ability to withstand stress. Individuals with high emotional stability tend to be calm, self-confident, and secure.

On the other hand, individuals with low emotional stability tend to be nervous, anxious, depressed, and insecure. Organizations need to focus on developing this personality trait to minimize the building up of stress and anxiety amongst their employees, which may lead to insecurity and subsequent workplace politics.

Figure summarises the five traits and their description as per the Big Five Model of personality:

Curious, original, intellectual, creative, and open to new ideas.Organized, systematic, punctual, achievement-oriented, and dependable.Outgoing, talkative, sociable, and enjoys being in social situations.Affable, tolerant, sensitive, trusting, kind, and warm.Anxious, irritable, temperamental, and moody

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