How to succeed in Office Politics: Company culture and manipulation


Manipulation: How often do we think whether we are being manipulated or not? Does it depend on our suspiciousness? Does it mean that we do not trust others? Or maybe, if we are conscious about manipulation, we are more advanced in our knowledge about ‘social influence’?

It is quite interesting, how we even perceive the meaning of ‘manipulation’. We interpret it as something negative, while there is another side of the coin.  Consider example of parenting, when yo need to influence a child in his behavior or encourage to take required action. Certainly, we manipulate, but in a positive way. Thus, we all are manipulators independent on our personality. I would say, it comes naturally, depending on what life situation we face and how ambitious are our motivations towards set goals, wishes.

Types of Manipulation and Techniques

There are many ways and techniques identified by Harriet Braiker and George K. Simon, that we can use in our daily life without realizing that we actually manipulating. There are positive and negative sides:

Positive reinforcement such as Praise, Superficial charm and sympathy, public recognition, excessive apologizing.

Negative reinforcement creates climate of fear and doubt, reward and/or punishment.

The manipulative techniques include lying, cheating, denial, rationalization, selective (in)attention, diversion, evasion, guilt tripping, shaming, victimization, projecting the blame and feigning innocence and confusion.

There are different life situations that every time brings a choice whether we’ll continue with positive of negative reinforcement. However, whether it is positive or negative manipulations depends on our real motivations, how responsive we are to the needs of people around us and whether we manipulate considering only our ego, in a selfish way or we sacrifice our energy and make an effort influencing them for the sake of common vision, mission and strategy.

Leader’s Position

As a Leader you need to prioritize and use positive reinforcement in order to develop a high-performance culture.  The role of complete Trust and Transparency should be perceived from the different angle now. As a Leader, you develop Trust and Transparency but simultaneously you need to keep a ‘helicopter view’, that helps to spot further steps and particular behaviour that you reinforce. This is what I call to keep a ‘business distance’, i.e. be transparent and trustworthy but remembering your primary goals as a Leader: it is you who leads others, not other way around. Thus, you are on top of the issues, and you are reponsible not only for your own tasks, but for the performance of others. Team performance, motivation, reinforcement depends directly on you, your management style and leadership skills. You need to be manipulative.

Are you in Political Games in your Organization? 

Every single organisation, whether big or small size, undergoes through the organisational politics and plays. There are no exclusions. Another issues is the extent to which these politics are important in company culture, and I guess, it depends on (1) the size of organisation, its turnover, profit; (2) organisational culture: open and trustworthy or secret-full, with no transparency; (3) type of the leader and values of the management team.

As suggested by Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, Harvard Business Review, the best way to deal with political games is to engage them, to turn toward them. By avoiding these games you abdicate your responsibilities as a Leader and Manager what in turn lets your team, organisation and yourself down.

Every Leader needs to exercise his ability to influence beyond his team and building ongoing relationships with other people, not only those he personally likes.

Organisations are often maelstroms of conflicting goals, divergent interests and fierce struggles for scarce resources. Avoiding conflicts, turning them personal – are the primary and destructive mistakes.

“Conflict can and should be handled constructively; when it is, relationships benefit. Conflict avoidance is *not* the hallmark of a good relationship. On the contrary, it is a symptom of serious problems and of poor communication.”

― Harriet B. BraikerWho’s Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life

Every conflict might be constructive or destructive. This is your responsibility as a Leader to turn in into the constructive way, but not to avoid.

Some hints to remember:

  • Keep your efforts clearly and obviously focused on the ultimate good of the enterprise
  • Work with others for mutual advantage, not just your own
  • Don’t make disagreements personal or let them become personal. Both parties ca disagree but still respect each other
  • Conduct yourself according to a set of standards important to you – honesty, openness, dependability, integrity
  • Build ongoing, productive relationships with everyone you need to do work, not just those you like
  • Always remember, these are professional relationships, not personal friendships.