Every environment has their own internal system that is dictated by aspects such as power and politics. These things have as much control over the functionality of an organizational as the individual features of organizational behavior. Often, they can shift how those components develop and affect those in the environment as well. Their impact-and that of those who control them-can shape the entire dynamics of an organization more so than any other force.
Power and politics within a business or organization are rather similar to the traditional political structures of government: authority is divided throughout the different parts of the system that power is exerted in.1 There are often different sources of power competing for control, which isn't necessarily a bad thing until someone decides to fight dirty. The internal politics of an organization, too, can be polarized as everyone will most likely relate to one side of an issue over another no matter how neutral they attempt to remain. All in all, the organizational power and politics in a business can be a fascinating and unique thing that can have a serious impact on organizational behavior.
Power struggles are a common occurrence in society, not just business. One person wants something from someone else, yet that person isn't willing to budge on the issue and just hand it over. In response, that first person may try to exert their own power and authority (perceived or actual) to try and persuade the other person to concede.2 It's a tactic that can work on occasion, but it can make a situation turn combative and toxic when it isn't successful. It occurs between co-workers, employees and their supervisors, amongst management, between different departments, and in board rooms in businesses across the world.
As normal as they are, power struggles are not an effective way to get things done in a working environment. They can damage the climate of the workplace, turning it toxic and stressful even for those who are not involved. It wastes time that can be better used towards productivity and often causes the situation to unnecessarily escalate.3 When a power struggle escalates, it often drags office politics into the mix and forces people to take a side. Attempts to avoid taking sides or getting roped in don't always work, and you may still be bombarded with the conflict even if you are successful in staying out of the situation.
The ability to stay out of a power struggle is a skill that can give you a lot of power in business, one that is best used to protect yourself. Surviving a power struggle is often the goal regardless of what industry you work in. There's still the aftermath to deal with when the dust settles, and the effects can hit anyone who happens to be standing too close. Experts say that if you want to not get involved with a power struggle, then your best bet is to not acknowledge a person's position in an argument, but their feelings.4 Make neutral observations, which can be used supportively should either party confront you about the situation and your stance in it; i.e. 'This has got to be so frustrating. I hope you two are able to work things out' or something similar that validates the emotional component of the situation.
Power in a business environment typically translates into authority and influence, and can manifest differently. People develop professional power differently, based on factors like their job, their position within the company, and the industry that the business is in. Typically, there are five types of power present in business:
The Politics of Business
As mentioned before, there is a political side to business. In a sense, it follows the same science behind the politics found in government.8 There is leadership that guides the group as a whole and a company philosophy and ethical code that everyone is expected to adhere to. The set up and style of the business' leadership determines how power is divided and what role, if any, the employees have in how the business is run. The people in that business tend to have their own agenda in all of this, shaped by their behavior and viewpoints, that surpasses the agenda of the organization as a whole-which is the entire premise behind organizational or business poltics.9
Politics tend to come up in a business when someone begins to act on their own interest without regard to others in the company. It commonly comes into play during times of conflict and power struggles, as people with conflicting agendas will typically be the ones at odds. Most experts and leaders state that business politics are more harmful than good; they're inherently selfish.10 Business politics bring down productivity amongst employees through distraction, hurts motivation and morale, increases stress levels, and warps the environment of the business.
Business politics do the worst damage when business leaders act according to their personal agendas. Those in positions of power will exert their authority based on their politics, which can lead to abuse. This may also encourage conflict between opposing political sides. Leaders higher up in the business' hierarchy, like CEOs, can stir-up politics in their company regardless of if they are political themselves.11 Changes to policies and leadership, as well as changes to the components of organizational behavior, can help reduce the power of office politics-or bolster them, if not done correctly.
Warning Signs Of Abuse In Positions Of Power
When politics and power come into play in a business, there is the chance that someone will abuse the authority that they have. This can be anyone who has some degree of power, no matter where they sit in the business' hierarchy or how long they've held that position. When a person abuses their power or goes on a power trip, it can have damaging consequences for everyone. Depending on how it starts and the person's position, it may not be immediately evident that they are abusing their power. Here are some of the warning signs common to abuse of power in the workplace:
How To Deal with Workplace Abuse
No one wants abuses of power to happen in their business. It's harmful to employees, the customers, productivity, and the business' overall environment. Preventing it doesn't always work, as people cannot be fully controlled. If there are abuses of power occurring in your business, here are a few things that can be done: