Dr Rob Yeung is a chartered psychologist and coach at consulting firm Talentspace



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Multiple-choice questions

Do you ever feel frustrated that your talents are not being recognised at work? Or are you seeing less-deserving individuals getting promoted more quickly than you? If so, you are probably being out-manoeuvred by more politically skilled colleagues.

I find that professionals often fall into one of two camps in terms of their views. Perhaps the larger group thinks of politicking as scheming, manipulation and generally crooked behaviour; the minority group sees it as an important tool for getting things done in the workplace.

Political skill predicts higher job performance, reduced stress at work and greater career success

Multiple benefits

Regardless of your feelings about office politics, numerous studies conducted by business schools as well as employers have demonstrated that political skill is associated with multiple benefits at work.

An in-depth review of the data by Liam Maher at Boise State University, and collaborators in the US and Pakistan, found that political skill predicted higher job performance, reduced stress at work, and greater career success as measured by promotions and pay rises.

Based on the research, I define political skill as ‘the ability to understand stakeholders effectively and to use such knowledge to influence them and secure resources in order to achieve organisational and/or personal goals’. Notice that I make no mention of the perceived fairness or unfairness of politicking; political behaviour can be used for mutually beneficial or entirely selfish reasons.

Power of networking

Management researchers led by Florida State University’s Gerald Ferris have identified that political skill consists of multiple sub-skills. One sub-skill is networking, which is measured by the extent to which individuals agree with statements such as ‘I spend a lot of time at work developing connections with others’ and ‘At work, I know a lot of important people and am well connected’.

There is nothing innately sinister about networking. It merely involves taking the initiative to gain wider exposure to decision-makers and other stakeholders.

Many workplaces now offer hybrid working – allowing employees some freedom in when they work from home versus the office. Working from home often allows people to get more tasks done. However, working too much from home may also rob people of opportunities to deepen existing relationships or develop new connections.

Businesses increasingly recognise that individuals who are better connected across different departments and business units are better at rallying support for important projects that may span organisational boundaries.

You can be political while being principled

Adaptability is key

Another political sub-skill is interpersonal adaptability: changing our behaviour in order to communicate and interact more effectively with others. Most of us when travelling to foreign countries try to be sensitive to behaviour that is appropriate in different cultures. Interpersonal adaptability is about demonstrating similar sensitivity to the needs of different stakeholders.

For instance, a politically savvy individual might notice that one decision-maker responds more favourably to in-person conversations than telephone calls and then adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Again, there is nothing innately Machiavellian about being flexible and sensitive to others’ needs; some would see it as showing respect for how others like to be dealt with.

Sincerity matters

Yet another political sub-skill involves demonstrating sincerity in our interactions with others. This means speaking and behaving in ways that are – or at least perceived by others – as honest and genuine. Stakeholders are unlikely to be open to being influenced if they feel that they are being manipulated.

Being truthful and trustworthy is one way to demonstrate sincerity. However, the unfortunate reality is that unscrupulous individuals who are able to fake being truthful and trustworthy can also display their apparent sincerity. As such, it is possible to be politically skilled in either an ethical, well-intentioned way or in an unethical, self-serving fashion.

So, don’t dismiss politics entirely just because certain people use their political skill only to further their selfish goals. Politicking does not have to be duplicitous. You can be political while being principled and seeking win-win outcomes. At its best, politics can advance both your career and important projects on behalf of your organisation.

Finally, consider that refusing to engage in politics would be like running a road race without wearing shoes: you make it much harder for yourself. Decline to improve your political skill and you may need to get used to your continuing frustration about not receiving the rewards you might otherwise obtain.

Watch and learn

Watch on demand Dr Rob Yeung’s session, ‘Going beyond the data: how to influence and persuade for positive impact’,  at the Accounting for the Future conference