Playing Politics: The Psychology of the Human Workplace | Karlyn Borysenko | Skillshare

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Playing Politics: The Psychology of the Human Workplace

teacher avatar Karlyn Borysenko, I teach people how human beings function at work.

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

8 Lessons (36m)
    • 1. Course overview. Watch this first!

    • 2. Why playing politics is important

    • 3. Principle 1: People are not logical and rational

    • 4. Principle 2: Relationships are your goal

    • 5. Principle 3: People have different natural tendencies

    • 6. Principle 4: Look for the win-wins

    • 7. Principal 5: Pick your battles

    • 8. A few final thoughts

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About This Class

Office politics. Those simple words have been known to strike fear into the hearts of men, invoking eye rolls, groans, and declarations that you will never "play politics" at work.

But what if you could use office politics for good? This class will teach you the psychology behind the interpersonal aspects of the human workplace and teach you to harness the power of relationships and influence to get more done, be more innovative, and rally your team to do amazing work.

The Carnegie Foundation famously declared that 85% of job success comes from the soft skills. That's all office politics is. Stop fearing it and start using it and you'll get more done at work than you ever dreamed!

Meet Your Teacher

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Karlyn Borysenko

I teach people how human beings function at work.


Karlyn Borysenko, PhD is the force behind Zen Workplace. An organizational psychologist and executive/performance coach, she is a leader in integrating mindfulness strategies at work to increase productivity and creativity, reduce stress, and create better work experiences. Her practice is based in the greater Boston area and serves clients all over the world. She holds an MBA and a PhD in Psychology, is an experienced trainer and facilitator, coach, award-winning speaker, and author of the book Zen Your Work.

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1. Course overview. Watch this first!: Hi, everyone. My name is Carl Umbro Sankoh. I'm an organizational psychologist and today we're gonna be talking about one of the most feared topics and all of business office politics. And the reason I think Office politics is so important is that there's literally not a single professional out there who doesn't have to deal with it, no matter your job, no matter your level. Office politics is a part of the professional world. So let's talk about it. Let's talk about it openly and honestly instead of sweeping it under the rug. Now, today we're gonna be talking about my five principles of office politics. Every single one of these is thoroughly grounded in psychology. It's all based on how our brain is hardwired toe work. Because try as we might, we don't check our humanity when we come to the office every day. So what I'm gonna recommend you do right at the top is blocked a full hour toe. Watch the entire presentation all at once. Yes, it's video. You can stop and start and skip around and go in any order you like, Really? But I've specifically designed this class so that each tit builds on the other. They all work together, and when you use them all together as one defined approach, that's when you're gonna have the most success with it. So block off the full hour, grab a couple water or tea or coffee or whatever your poison is, and spend some time really absorbing all the information. Most of all, keep an open mind. Office politics is generally something that gets a really bad reputation, but it all depends on the person using it. You can choose to use it for good, or you can choose to use it for evil. And I sincerely hope that everyone who does this course chooses that first option. With great power comes great responsibility, Right, So sit back, relax, and I hope you enjoy the class. 2. Why playing politics is important: now, before we get too far into it. I just want to take a quick moment to introduce myself and tell you a little bit more about the perspective that I bring to a discussion on office politics. My name is Carl in Borisenko. I'm the owner and principal of Zen Workplace, and I'm an organizational psychologist. Another term for that might be business psychologist. I have study how human beings function in the workplace and what that means for all sorts of different things, from managing people to communicating to interpersonal issues through my company's and workplace. I work with individuals all over the world to help them find greater happiness and success at work. I also work with businesses to help them create amazing working environments. And when you're doing that type of work and understanding of office, politics is key because that's all we're talking about here. It's all of those soft skills that people talk about, and those soft skills are so critical to success. But most people don't like talking about office politics because it has a viscerally negative connotation to it. But you have to talk about it if you want to be professionally successful. You have to talk about it. Why? Because organizations are much more political than you probably realize. And you might go into it thinking, I'm not gonna play office politics. I'm just gonna come in and put my head down and do my job and focus on the work, and that's how I'm going to get promoted. That's how I'm going to get ahead. But the thing of it is, is that whether or not you choose to play office politics, everyone around you is playing. And if you consciously opt out of the system, that just means that people who are not as smart as you and not as talented are going to get promoted ahead of you every single time. But there are good reasons to play office politics as well, because when you do it well, you can become a change agent in your organization. And that's because playing politics will help you do more. Because, contrary to popular belief, office politics are not necessarily evil. You've got to think of them as the unspoken rules of the workplace. They exist in every single workplace, even if people aren't talking about them and look just because the rules exist doesn't mean you have to like them. You don't have to like the rules to play the game, but you do have to understand them. And I want to be really upfront here. When I'm not talking about is an ideal world of rainbows and unicorns and how things should be in justice and fairness and all that. That's not what we're gonna discuss today. What we are going to talk about is how our brain is hard wired toe work. That's true of me. That's true of you. That's true of every single person that you work with. If you are not a zombie than what we're going to discuss today applies to you. And at the end of the day, what we're really talking about is adapting your behaviour too different types of situations at work and look, we behave differently at home than we do it work that we do a church or then we do it. Our kids school. We adapt our behavior all the time, and when you do this at work, I guarantee you you're going to be more effective. You're gonna get more done and you're going to be happier to boot in this course, we're going to discuss my five principles of office politics. If you're ready to go, go on to the next video and will get started. 3. Principle 1: People are not logical and rational: Okay, Principle number one. People are not logical and rational. We desperately want people to be logical and rational at work. But I think there's also a part of us that instinctively knows that they aren't. I mean, come on, look at yourself, even. Let's just have a little fun with this. How many illogical things have you already done this week? How many a logical things have you already done today? Human beings do not make decisions logically. Now that's not to say that people don't use data in their decision making. It's just that most the time, and this is particularly true. It work. They just use it to justify what they've already decided to dio. Now, don't be too hard on them because most of those decisions are made unconsciously. They're made on a sub conscious level. We are not aware of them, But that doesn't mean that's not what's taking place. Okay, And to illustrate why that is, I'm gonna teach you how our brain is hardwired toe work. So years ago, I was at the airport on a Sunday morning, I was flying out to a conference and I was still doing my PhD at the time and diligent student as I was, I had brought a textbook with me about a quick, advanced quantitative research. But as you might imagine, at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, it just wasn't the most appealing thing to read. So I went to the airport bookstore, get your typical paperback bestseller, got on the plane, sat down. I sat down next to this really nice looking older man, and heels have this very fancy soon on. He was talking to his wife on the phone, and they were still laughing and joking to clearly see, they start a great relationship After probably a lot of years together. I just kind of smiled and sat down, opened my book and started reading. A couple minutes later, he has to hang up the phone with his wife and he turns to me and he starts striking up a conversation because he was that type of guy. So we chit chat a little bed, and a couple minutes into that, he asked me, He goes, What are you reading? And I have to admit that I probably turned as red as I had ever been in my life when I showed him my copy of 50 Shades of Grey and confessed that I was reading smut. But he laughed and he took out his copy of The Wall Street Journal. And he pointed to not one, not two, but three stories about men having affairs on their wives and having to resign there positions because of it. And he said, Look, I'm reading smut to now. What does that have to do with office politics? Not a damn thing. But now I know I have your attention. And here's why. You have to think of the way the brain works as being in three different parts. The old brain, the midbrain and the new brain. The old brain was the very first part of our brain to develop way, way, way, way, way back when we were cavemen, and it is interested in three things. Food, survival and sex. If any of those three things comes up, our old brain turns on really quickly, like a dog that has just seen a bone food survival in sex. Now our old brain is a massive supercomputer. We take in so much more information every single second than we're consciously aware of In fact, we take in 11 million bits of data every single second. But we're Onley consciously aware off about 40 of them. Okay, so huge disconnect there. 11 million pieces of data go in 40 of them make it into our conscious awareness. And our old brain is constantly skinning our environment looking for those three things that it cares about, right? So if it sees food, danger or sex, that is automatically going to make its way into that 40 bits of data Now the other thing to know about the old brain is that it tries really, really hard to make all of our decisions for us. When those decisions involve food, danger, sex, the decision becomes pretty clear. Our old brain is gonna go towards what it wants to do with that at that given moment, right? But if food dangerous sex are not a factor, then it has to consult other parts of the brain. And the first part of the brain and consults is the midbrain. This is the part of our brain that processes all emotion. It was the next part of our brain to develop after the old brain. So it's a really powerful part of the brain. And when we're talking about emotions, they are processed on that sub conscious level. We aren't always aware necessarily of why we're feeling happier, sad. Sometimes we are. Sometimes we can take a pretty good guess, but sometimes it just happens, right, and we aren't quite sure what's going on. The mid brain is also that area of the brain that processes non verbal communication. So we're constantly analyzing our environment, looking for cues to tell us what to think about it. So think about those times you walk into a room at work, and before anyone has said anything, you just know something is wrong, OK? Or you just meet someone in the two, you click or you meet someone, and you instantly hate them. You have no cause to feel one way or the other, but you're having a really strong reaction to that person now. Those feelings don't come from nowhere. That's processing all that 11 million pieces of information and it's delivering you an answer is just not telling you how it got there. So we've got our survival instincts. We've got our emotions, and that leaves the new brain, and this is where we process all logic and reason. And this is what also gets into trouble, because this is the only part of the brain that we're consciously aware of the part of the brain that processes logic and reason. The problem is that just because we're conscious of it doesn't mean it's the most influential part of the brain when it comes to decision making, because all of our decisions are made by the old brain, and if it can't make a decision, it talks to the mid brain first. And what does that mean? What does that leave us with? Here's the thing you want to write down. Write this on a sticky note. Put it on your computer monitor at work. It applies in almost any situation you find yourself in. Human beings, make decisions emotionally, and then they justify them rationally. I'm gonna say that one more time because it's really, really important. Human beings make decisions emotionally, and then they justify them rationally. And what that means for office politics is that there is no such thing as an objective reality because we filter objective information based on our emotional responses and That means that office politics is inherently irrational. Benjamin Franklin knew this, he said. Would you persuade speak of interest, not of reason? And what that means for work is that when we rely solely on logic and reason in data, we will fail every single time. Because emotion will always win over logic. It will win every single day of the week. Now, some of you right now are sitting there with your arms crossed and you're really not liking this information. And you're insisting I don't make decisions emotionally. Everyone else makes decisions emotionally. Well, you can fight this. You can. It's certainly an option. But trust me, if you embrace this idea, you can use it to get more done. And be Morse professionally successful than you ever dreamed. If you're ready to go head on into the next video and we're going to talk about principle number two 4. Principle 2: Relationships are your goal: principle. Number two relationships are your goal. I'm gonna say this another way. You've got to get people toe like you. You have to get people toe like you at work. I was once working with this executive team and I said toe all of these executives in the room. I said, Look, guys, you have to get your team members toe like you and the CEO raises her hand. She said No. You mean you mean respect, don't you? You must mean respect. I said no. No, respect is not necessarily a good thing. Respect is not an emotion. The word respect is used inherently negatively at work all the time. Like with all due respect or I respect you. But nothing good ever comes out of that language. People have to genuinely like you in order, toe follow you. We will not follow leaders that we do not like. And if you don't like a leader, they could have the most well thought out plan in the history of plans and you are still going to find a reason not to follow them. It is very easy to find reasons, not toe like someone that we just intrinsically don't like, okay? And the reason this is important is because people are wrong when they think that influence in the organization comes from the or chart there is. Influence in the Orc Charter let you hire people fire people give them their performance reviews, but it is the weakest type of influence that exists in the organization because it's really hard to change. It takes a lot of effort. It also only applies to your specific silo. Organizations are much more collaborative than that. We have toe work with a lot of different types of people. If you just go by where you sit in the orc chart, you're going toe lose now. Another way to influence is to be proceeded as an expert in something. If you are perceived as the smartest person in the building of what you do, you are going to have influence in that specific area. But perceive is the key word here. Just think to yourself. Have you ever had a boss and you don't know how in the world they ended up in that position because they don't know what they're doing? Well, guess what? Someone perceived them to be an expert someone perceive that to be the best decision. Perception is the key word. Okay, that doesn't mean it's fact. It means that's what someone else thinks. And the best way to influence perception is by building relationships. There's this really old study from the Carnegie Foundation, but it still holds true today that 85% of your job success comes from the soft skills Onley . 15% of it comes from technical knowledge, because relationships a worker like your secret weapon they allow you to influence without that formal structure. It also means you can tap into that emotional part of the brain that we talked about in the first principle, right? It's incredibly important. But the thing is, you can't wait until you need something to start building relationships. You've got to start doing it right now. That way, they're already in place when you need something from someone, so don't wait. Build relationships with the people that you work with on all areas, not just in your department. Anyone that plays in your sandbox, you've got to be on good terms with, because that's how you're going to get ahead. In order to do that, you're gonna have to adapt to people with different tendencies. We're going to talk about that in the next video 5. Principle 3: People have different natural tendencies: So you're on board with building relationships. But how do you do that? Well, you got to know Principle number three people have different natural tendencies at work. Say that another way. People are like cats and dogs now. I'm a dog person myself. I much prefer dogs over cats. These are my two dogs. The one on the bottom is a pure bred show. Our her name is Honey. Robocop. Pancho Tequila on top. We've got Kobe Taco Corona, Esquire. He's a chew weenie. That's a Chihuahua. It docks and mix. They have multiple names, like Royals. And that should tell you that I'm one of those really annoying dog people, right? If you follow me on Twitter Instagram after this, you're going to see so many pictures of my dogs like this one of my husband balancing a beer on my dog's head, or this one of my dogs showing off their haircuts. Or like why this picture of my dog hasn't gone viral. I just don't understand. Maybe someone can explain it to me in the class. But my point here is this. I don't understand cat people. I really don't. I don't understand cat people. I don't understand why anyone would choose the love of a cat which basically sticks around just because you have the food. It doesn't really like you. I don't know why people would choose the love of a cat over the love of a dog doesn't make sense to me, But you know what? I don't think cat people are bad people. I don't think that they've made poor life choices. We just have a fundamental difference of opinion on this issue. Neither of us is right. Neither of us is wrong. It's just a difference of opinion. And the same is true when it comes to different styles at work. A lot of times you'll see this characterized as some people are an introvert and some people are an extra vert. And look, don't even get me started on the millennials stereotypes because a lot of them are not true . You cannot characterize an entire generation of people that were born within a 20 year time span of each other as all wanting the same things because it's way more complicated than just extroverts are introvert or generational. But the key is that you just have to accept that different styles exist and they may or may not be like yours. Don't judge them. Is good or bad, right? It's just a different approach. You have to detach and look at it is un emotionally as you possibly can, and then you have to adapt your behavior toe what the person in front of you needs from you . Okay, if the person in front of you has a completely different work style than you, you have to adapt to them. And sometimes people with the same work style. They have a lot of issues with people with similar work styles, so you have to adapt in different ways. One of the best ways to do this is just to mirror them, give them what they are giving you. If someone is fast paced, try to pick up the pace. If someone legs toe, work at a slower pace than slow down. If someone wants to make small talk with you, make small talk with them. Don't resist it. Don't talk about this is unprofessional. If someone wants to work in their office with the door closed, don't bother them and try to make them do social things. Just adapt to them be conscious of what they need Most of the time, the things they need have more to do with them. That they have anything to do with you at all and think of it is being considerate. Now, if you want to get more advanced in this, you can look at psychological assessments as a quick short cut to doing this. And my favorite psychological assessment of all time is disk. Now. I'm not going to do a deep dive into disk your but I just want you to know it as an option that's available to you. Disc is your ultimate shortcut for understanding different work styles and how to adapt to them. If you take a disc assessment, a good one, it's going to give you an exact outline of what your work style is off. All the other four styles are and exactly what you need to do toe identify and adapt to those different styles. Now, a word of warning with this, if you're going to go out and look for a disc assessment after you see this to get that nice shortcut, do not take a free test on the Internet. Don't do it they are simply not accurate. Invest a little bit of money. I don't care if you do it with me or someone else. I don't care where you go but take ah, high quality assessment because it's going to be much more accurate and much more helpful to you. So that's your ultimate shortcut. There are others times of assessments out there, but I just think that disk is, frankly, the easiest one to use. Another thing is guys, please, for the love of your sanity, stop letting email run your social relationships at work. You've got to stop. Email is a horrible tool for anything that could be considered a human interaction. If you're trying to build relationships with people, it is never going to happen over email. Get up out of your chair and go talk to people or pick up the phone. Or, if you work in entirely different cities, get on video chat. All of those things are good, but you need to allow people to hear the tone and inflection in your voice. Sometimes we send a really short email just cause we're in a hurry and we don't really think about it and the other person gets it and they instantly get pissed off because they think you're pissed off at them and just send them a short, snippy email. You didn't mean anything by it, but your intention has got in lost. So let's make it a habit. If it's not something like scheduling a meeting or passing a document back and forth, get up out of your chair and go talk to people. You will build relationships so much faster. It's amazing. And the last tip I'm going to give you in this category is that you have to be vulnerable with people. You have to be vulnerable. My tell you another story. So I used to work at this God awful job. I was so miserable there. But there was this one guy in particular that he and I, we were two completely different people, right? He was very old and curmudgeonly, and I've been doing this forever. And he knew all this stuff, and I was this young upstart with new ideas, and he did not like me at all. And we would pick, pick, pick, pick, pick it, each other, back and forth, and be so passive aggressive with each other, and this went on for months until one day in a meeting, of course, would like 12 other people in the room. He absolutely exploded on May. He screamed at me and gave me a thorough dressing down in the middle of this meeting in front of all these other people. And I was so pissed, you know, that you get that point of pissed when you can't even speak. That's the level of pissed that I waas and I've got up. As soon as the meeting was over and I stomped out of the building and I went, got lunch and I sat there until I was good and ready to go back. And when I did, I walked into his office. I shut the door and I said, What is your problem? And I looked at him, and in that instant I knew that his explosion had nothing to do with me. It had absolutely nothing to do with me. He was getting it from all angles in the organization, and I just happened to be the person that was in his line of fire when he couldn't take it anymore. And in the course of that conversation, we opened up to each other about how much we both hated it there. How how we were dealing with the stress with the people that were causing us problems. We were vulnerable with each other. And I'll tell you what, like I still didn't understand him, and he definitely didn't understand me. But for the rest of the time, I was there. We were like Office BFF's. We really were. We had a great relationship all because we're able to be vulnerable with each other, and that's the core function off any team, right? That is the core foundational requirement. Google did this study a couple years ago, where they looked at all of the different teams in their organization, and they found that the most successful teams, the number one thing by a mile that they had in common was that team members felt safe to take risks with each other and be vulnerable in front of each other. And that goes along with what we know about psychology to write. Most of you have probably seen Maazel's hierarchy of needs. When you took psychology one on one in college. It's a really common thing, basically if we don't have our safety meets net, we can't get to the good stuff, right? We can't get to belongingness and esteem and self actualization. And those are all the things that allow us to do our best work when we reached that level. And so here's another tip. It's not necessarily just about you being vulnerable if you can help other people to be vulnerable. If you can help other people to feel psychologically safe, that is going to cement that relationship like nothing else. You can dio okay, help people to feel psychologically safe organisations. Nowadays they have taken so much decision making away from highly qualified people. It is insane. It is insane how many decisions people who have gone to school in college and grad school for years and years and years. It is insane how many decisions They cannot make it work without checking with 1 to 3 other people to get sign off. And all of this has led to an amazing sense of powerlessness and we see this all the time. You see this all the time when you go to meetings and those people are there and they puff out their chests, and they pontificate about things that the whole rest of the room is like rolling their eyes at. They're not doing it because they feel powerful. They're doing it because they feel powerless. But if you can find a way to give them their power back, that is the best way to build relationships at work. And guess what, guys? You do it even if the outside your job description, the phrase that's not my job is one of the most detrimental freezes in any organization. This is not about your job description. This is about building human relationships. So the end of the day you've got to treat the people you work with, the way they want to be treated. That's how you position yourself to gain buying from them on all your projects and how you can bring them along with you. If you want some more tips and advice for how to do that, continue on to the next video principle. Number four 6. Principle 4: Look for the win-wins: principle number four. This is a big one, guys, you've got toe always be on the lookout for the win win because office politics is at its best. When you're looking for ways for everyone to be successful, being successful at work does not mean you have to walk all over other people. It does not mean you have to defeat other people to get a win. Another word for that is compromise. Compromise is such a lost art in our culture, we see everything as a zero sum game. I have to get 100% of what I want or else I'm not successful. But that's not realistic. If you can get 50 or 60 or 70% of what you want and give someone else a win that is better every single day of the week. Been getting 100% of what you want and pissing someone else off. What did we talk about? In principle? Number two, It's all about relationships. If you are consistently pissing other people off because you are refusing to compromise, that is not a foundation for building relationships. One thing that could be really helpful is to know who your organizational enemies are Know who you're going up against. Now, look, I'm not talking about who you like and who you don't. This isn't high school. I'm not talking about who are the popular kids and who aren't right When I'm talking about is who's goals align with yours and whose do not? Because the resource is in any organization or finite. There is a limited budget. There is a limited staff and you're gonna have other people going after the resource is that you want. And this is when your win win sensor has got to kick into overdrive. One of my favorite quotes from a son Sue. The art of war is Bill, your enemy a golden bridge to retreat across. What does that mean? When you know who your office enemy is and you know what they're going after that you both want. You find a way to give it to them, give them what they want. Give them a win. It will benefit you in the long run to give your enemies winds over and over and over. Because guess what? When you start doing this on a frequent basis, they're going to stop being your enemy because they're going to know this is a person that I can work with. This is a person that has my back. This is a person serving me. This is a person that's supporting me. This is a person that's giving me my power back. That's what you get when you go for win wins, Okay? Incredibly important. But to do that well, you're gonna have to pick your battles. And we're gonna talk about that in the last video. 7. Principal 5: Pick your battles: Okay, so we've made it to principle number five. You've got to pick your battles because political capital is not finite. You're never going to run out of it, but it is fluid. So if you use it all up fighting battles that you can't win or that don't really mean anything, you aren't going to have any more political capital left over for when you really need it. So make sure you're picking your battles. Well, guess what, guys. Sometimes picking your battles just means that you need to keep your mouth shut most of the time. That is the only thing you need to dio keep your mouth shut, don't fight the battles or say the comments and meetings that people always remember and that pissed them off. Just stay quiet and focused and ask yourself what is opening my mouth going toe? Win me What is opening my mouth going toe? Lose me more political capital is spent when people don't simply just steak. Why it when it's in their best interest to do so? A good rule of thumb to use is that if you find yourself getting heated, especially in meetings, take a step back and look, I love that you bring so much passion to your job that you're getting heated in a meeting. That's a great thing. You don't want to go to work and be a mindless robot, But just keep in mind that everything can be both a strength and a weakness. Too much passion can hold you back as much as it can propel you to career success. So you got to detach. Taken, open, honest Look at if your tactics are actually advancing you towards your goal when you detach , you don't allow your egos to make decisions for you. You're allowing that logic and reason that is really hard to get into your decision making process to take hold. Okay, this is gonna feel really weird when you first start doing it. But if you do it over and over and over again, it's going to be you to your greatest benefit, and you're gonna have more success than you ever dreamed possible. I had a mentor tell this to me like 10 years ago or so, and I have never forgotten it. She said. Carlin, it's not about being right. It's about being effective. Stop trying to be right. Stop trying to prove yourself most of the time. It's not going to get you further to your goal. So that's principle Number five. Move over to the next video and we'll wrap the whole thing up. 8. A few final thoughts: So we talked a lot about office politics, and I told you at the beginning, office politics was not necessarily evil, right? You have a lot of knowledge about how human beings function in the work environment right now, But with great power comes great responsibility. At the end of the day, this is about building human connections, and it will make you more effective at work. And as an extra added bonus, it's gonna make you happier at work, too. So some final thoughts be empathetic. Be flexible, be likable, be vulnerable. No one to keep your mouth shut and balance good relationships with doing good work those your keys to the kingdom.