The important difference between politics and communicating


“I don’t do politics”

Many people over the years have told me something like, “I refuse to engage in politics” or “I’m not good at politics”, and they give this as a reason why their career has stalled.

When they see other people getting ahead, they chalk it up to “politics”.

And they assert that their “no politics” position is on the high ground, so they are sticking with it.

There are a few important things I try to share at this point in the conversation.

But first,

I think it’s important to talk about what we mean when we say “Politics”.

And it’s also important to think about what that definition implies about the steps you do or do not take to advance your career.

The issue here is that I see a lot of people using “no politics” as an excuse to opt out of investing in communicating.

You can’t get ahead if you are invisible

If you opt out of communicating two things remain true…

1. You are always going to be invisible if you don’t communicate.

2. You can not build credibility and gain recognition if you are invisible.

The bottom line here is that…

It is important to connect the dots to make sure that your good work is associated with YOU.

That is not automatic. Good work does not stand on it’s own, even if you think it should.

And connecting those dots is NOT being political.

The mistake here is to equate positive, productive communications with being political.

What is political?

So when does communicating = being political and when does communicating not = being political.

For me it’s simple.

When communication adds value, it’s not politics.
When incompetent people get ahead, that’s politics.

1. When competent people proactively communicate with stakeholders about their work in a way that others benefit from knowing about it — That’s not politics.

2. When people generously form network connections by offering help, advice, or being genuinely interested in learning from or helping other people — That’s not politics.

3. When people talk to their bosses and stakeholders about the value of the work they delivered, why it’s important, and make sure the company knows this value has been delivered and the benefits are available –That’s not politics.

Creating positive visibility

All of those things are positive, productive communications that have the added side benefit of creating positive visibility for your good efforts and your competence.

All of those things will improve how you are seen, recognized and positioned for advancement and success.

To simply dismiss effective stakeholder communications, generous networking, and sharing the value of your work as “politics” is risky.

Sure you can use the “no politics” angle to let yourself off the hook for communicating, but it’s important to recognize that maintaining this position as the only way to stay on the high ground is not actually true, and is not helping you in your career.

If you hold on to this thinking, just know that,

1. That strategy is not serving you to advance, it’s holding you back.
2. You can communicate AND still maintain your position on the high ground.

Why do politics work to get ahead?

Well, again, it depends what you mean by “works”.

Let’s look at the low ground for a moment.

Absolutely the business world is heavily populated by bad managers, where politics (intstead of talent, competence, results and good leadership) played a significant role in their advancement.

It breaks my heart and drives me crazy to see how many companies tolerate bad leadership. I wrote more about that here.

The thing to keep in mind is that …

While it can work to play politics in a negative way, it’s NOT the ONLY way to get ahead.

For me, I always moved my career forward by staying on the high ground AND communicating.

Staying on the high ground

I focused on winning together with others–not by putting them down, and I focused on delivering real value. But I also on committed to consistent, positive, high-value communications.

In contrast,

Political communications tend to be shallow, self promoting tactics that come without results to back them up.

To me, that was not an acceptable way to advance my career.

My work is about giving leaders a way to advance while staying on the high ground, treating others (at all levels) with respect, and being the one to commit to always communicating effectively (at all levels).

That positive approach to communicating is not politics even though it has the added benefit of building your reputation, gaining recognition, and making sure that the value of your work is associated with you.

For more on this topic you can check out my Executive Playbook on Marketing and Positioning Yourself without politics.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.


About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.


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