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Negative Politik

4 May 2023


“Office politics don’t play a big role in our company; we’re really unique in that respect.”

We’ve all heard this assertion in one form or another. But we are not as unique as we feel in this respect, neither as a company nor as the movers and shakers at senior management levels. And all too often, those who complain about troublesome and energy-sapping office politics believe that they play no part in such machinations. Nonetheless, they are inevitably dragged in and forced to respond in some way.


Much of the negative politics in a company serves solely to maintain privileges and positions of power. It is stirred up by people out of fear and insecurity. They do whatever works to the benefit of their position and security in the short term, even if it is not in the best interests of the company and may even cause it harm. Such people are generally oblivious of the fact that they are neither advancing the cause of their department and the company nor attaining a higher level of personal maturity, though in some cases such activities may indeed be intentional.

The consequence is that others feel obliged to participate in this politicking due to lack of comprehension and the natural human instinct of self-defense. They usually just react and go with the flow instead of actively joining in. But at some point, the ethical compass of even those colleagues who arrived at the company with the highest integrity succumbs. Ideals go out of the window, potential is wasted and productivity drops alarmingly.


According to my observations, the best companies have a ten percent cap on internal politics, i.e. only one-tenth of employee and management time is devoted to it, while 90 percent is focused externally on the market, on customers and associated value creation. In most organizations, however, the average time spent on internal politics is closer to 30 or 40 percent. Too much of this is about covering your back against eventualities and deliberately harming the chances of others who you are jealous of, who could be dangerous to your career prospects or who you simply don’t like.

Primitive? Childish? Yes, but unfortunately, it’s part of everyday corporate life.

There are two levers available for defusing negative politics and keeping them to a minimum:


You should heighten your awareness of internal politics, avoid leaving them to sort themselves out and pay specific attention to the underlying system. Most of the time, managers just resign themselves to verbally expressing how inappropriate and incomprehensible certain behaviors are instead of directly intervening.

Office Politics

Image: AdobeStock Azar

Take a close look:

As much as factual arguments are exchanged in meetings, jours fixes and workshops and are therefore in the foreground, they are usually not the main focus. In my experience, an analytical and systematic look behind the scenes helps:

The last two aspects in particular – envy and fear with regard to status and power – are the strongest drivers of negative politics. Analyzing all of the above has two positive effects: firstly, you can deal with negative politics more confidently because you understand the system and realize that this behavior rarely has anything to do with you personally; and secondly, you can defuse the whole thing with well thought-out positive politics and thereby boost company performance. This lever is greater than any reorganization or process optimization, because politics is not bad per se. It’s just a question of the spin and direction you give to it.


You can foster the politics of positivity by analyzing the network of effects and the emotional complexity of the power structures in your environment and manipulating them so that they work to the benefit of the company:

Negative politics is one of the most critical stumbling blocks in management, because it prevents the right thing from being done on a consistent basis.


The goal of positive politics is to form alliances based on the true individual interests of those colleagues and employees who can advance the company by working together. Remember, though, that there is no such thing as company interests. These are a purely virtual construct. Only individual interests exist.

Your political goal must therefore be to amplify the valuable intersections in a targeted manner – for example, by transforming envy into incentive, allaying fear through empathy and urgently eliminating political incompatibilities wherever they are present.

In this way, you will not be yielding the political stage to the few pernicious forces driven by insecurity and fear. Instead, you will ensure that company forces are directed towards the true purpose, namely value creation!

Matthias Kolbusa

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