image of a coffee cupThere’s no hiding from, denying or deftly side-stepping the reality that the political game…the pursuit of resources, budgets and yes, even power, is in full swing just about all of the time in most organizations.

It’s too bad that most people are playing it wrong.

In the world of negotiation, there’s a profound difference between focusing on your own position…the “I want” versus your opponent’s “I want.” Negotiating around the “I wants” is not much different than engaging in a playground squabble. The playground approach offers no rational mechanism for going from disagreement to agreement, short of who’s bigger and tougher.

Sadly, many of us carry our playground selves into the workplace…and while the environment has changed, the tactics are uncomfortably familiar.

As experienced negotiators will tell you, a better approach than shouting each other down over who gets or wants what is to focus on surfacing the interests of all parties. While a game of “I want” is only resolved by brute force, usually after a long stand-off, a focus on interests allows the parties to design a way forward.

4 Ideas to Leave the Playground Tactics Behind in the Real Game of Office Politics:

1. Resist the Urge to Make it Personal. Too often, we allow our disagreements with someone over their views or actions (or inaction) to become personal. Once we cross that toxic emotional chasm, it’s hard to do anything but focus on force versus force…and soon you’re back on the playground. As challenging as it is, orient on the business issues, not the person you are at odds with or your perception of their motives.

2. Be the First to Reach Out. This sounds like Mom’s advice, but in this case, Mom was right. Be the better person. Reach out…extend an olive branch to the individual or group seemingly on the other side of your interests and start talking. Nothing happens without dialog. If you are interested in promoting change, it’s better to be the initiator than the recipient. The edge goes to those taking the first steps and defining the agenda.

3. Focus on Surfacing Interests. As you open the dialog with your counterpart, focus on the bigger picture…how you are trying to help the organization…e.g. grow sales, improve profits, strengthen customer engagement etc. Surface the goal…and encourage your counterpart to react to or offer alternative views on the goal. Once you’ve started down the path of sharing goals, you’ve created context to work together and design a way forward.

4. Use Progress to Build Momentum. From sharing and discussing viewpoints on goals to striving to agree around a common goal to planning the way forward, strive to turn every step forward into a plan for future steps. Always give to get…in terms of help, resource and if the goal is truly important, put your money where your goal is and pony up budgetary support as needed.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s progress to be had in the workplace from tackling the sticky issues with perceived adversaries. Too many people play the wrong kind of political games, disparaging their adversaries and refusing to collaborate. In my experience, you are better off turning the energy in the situation towards something good…and that something should invariably be focused on strengthening the business. While not every circumstance will unfold in storybook fashion, you improve your odds of success by surfacing interests and pushing your wants and desires to the background.

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