In Art Of Coaching Podcast

Today, we’re talking about what’s become a polarizing and almost dirty word: Politics. 

But I’m not interested in debating election results or partisan policies. I want to discuss another kind of politics, one that gets less press…  micropolitics

Micropolitics (also known as office politics) are the tactics we use every day to influence and manipulate a context to suit our needs. It might sound nefarious, but it’s completely human and often necessary to use these strategies when attempting to create change. 

In this episode, I’ll break down the nuance between good and bad office politics and then offer an approach for identifying, navigating, and using them to your advantage.

After all, it’s not the tool, it’s how you wield it. 

If you’re interested in working on your ability to influence the people you lead, or if you’re struggling to navigate the politics of your work environment, we’d love to help. We now offer 1 on 1 communication training. Head to to learn more.

Check out the other episodes mentioned in today’s show:

Episode 2: Culture: Myths, Facts and Tips 

Episode 82: Barking Up the Wrong Tree and Social Capital

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Brett Bartholomew  00:01

You know, most people think of self awareness as introspection, but in reality, it’s also, you know, other awareness. And you know, if you know how other people see you and how your behavior impacts them, that is critical, because a lot of times we downplay our own influence, we’re very conscious of how others behave, other behavior, other people’s behavior impacts us. And we think that we just kind of go along, and you know, we’d really don’t have an impact on things. And especially if you’re humble, you almost have this untrained eye to recognize the influence that you do have, and that’s something that you’ve got to be aware of, you’ve got to be able to understand we all have way more influence than we think we do. Welcome to the Art Of Coaching podcast, a show aimed at getting to the core of what it takes to change attitudes, behaviors and outcomes in the weight room, boardroom classroom, and everywhere in between. I’m your host, Brett Bartholomew, I’m a performance coach, keynote speaker, and the author of the book conscious coaching. But most importantly, I’m a lifelong student interested in all aspects of human behavior and communication. I want to thank you for joining me. And now let’s dive into today’s episode. Hey, welcome back, guys. Or if it’s your first time, welcome to The Art Of Coaching Podcast. Today, we have a quick hitter for you. And it’s on a topic that may not be comfortable, but it’s something we certainly all deal with. And I hope that when you listen to this micro episode, because it is going to be brief, that you take some information here and you have a conversation with your staff about this or a colleague or a significant other. And I hope you send it to somebody that perhaps doesn’t agree with it, or you or if it challenges you and even you don’t agree with it, I hope you just take the information and you see it for what it is and you take it as an invitation into a deeper discussion. Now this is going to be an appetizer regarding the topic that we’re going to cover. It’s not going to be the full Monty, and we will get into this later on. But the topic we’re talking about, the one that can be so quarrelsome, is politics. And no, we’re not talking about who you voted for. No, we’re not talking about what is known as macro politics, the things that, man they cause so much of a stir, and rightly so, right. Politics, or politics and religion are interesting topics that you never want to bring up around friends, because it usually doesn’t go anywhere good unless you’re around a collective, that it’s for that purpose, of course. But the kind of politics that we’re talking about here are what has been really known as office politics or in the literature is referred to as micro politics. Now, you may have heard me address these things before because a big part of what we do at Art Of Coaching is we help people solve people problems. Yes, I started as a strength coach working with athletes, and I still do that. But we also work with corporations. We also help somebody run their mayoral campaign. We help doctors we help lawyers, we help a wide variety of people deal with complex interpersonal issues and intrapersonal issues for that matter. And politics in the workplace is one of them. Now, I also owe some of this information because we’re diving into some other stuff, both research my own experience and otherwise to Rob Kaiser, and I’m probably gonna butcher this last one. Tomas, Komodo pro music and Derek Alaska’s, they’ve done some great work on this as well as have countless other researchers. But let’s keep this light for now, when we talk about coaching, and I use coaching as a synonym for leadership and management. So when we talk about coaching, it is part improv, part game theory and part persuasion. We do live and die by that term and persuasion. You know, sometimes we go back and forth with that and influence. But what we mean by these things is improv guys, nobody ever gets to make decisions as a leader with 100% certainty, you have to adapt on the fly, especially when dealing with politics and people’s egos and tempers and what have you, including your own. And that leads into game theory, right game theory is a mathematical study of decision making under uncertainty. And we’ve done some previous episodes there, again, follow me, this is a quick hitter. So I apologize if you’re not getting the operational definitions that you want. Right now, let’s stick with what this point, the point of this show is. And then influence or persuasion, meaning guys, again, we have to act without always a roadmap of where we want to go, we have to take information as we get it, make the best decisions, we can at that point in time and influence people not in the Instagram way. But you know, influence people change their behavior so that we can improve an outcome and we can do these things effectively. And interpersonal communication is really what serves as the epicenter of relational development, right and maintenance. It doesn’t matter if it’s with your neighbor, or the person next to you at work or, you know, if you just took a new position the people that you’re going to be working with all of these things There is always going to be some level of politics. So to get nerdy for a moment when we talk about micro political literacy and micro politics is the term given for non, you know, major or macro politics. So what’s going on in the White House? Or who’s the Prime Minister of Australia at this moment? or what have you, that’s macro politics, micro politics is really referring to the strategies and tactics used by everyday individuals, you and me, as well as groups in organizations to further their interests. Now, what’s interesting here is politics is often a dirty word, right? But politics are also unavoidable. Aristotle noted that man, by nature is a political animal, we’re always kind of, you know, using these Machiavellian tactics to position ourselves in better situations, whether in our work life or our personal life. And that’s not bad guys, you know, it’s, we have to get away from this. And if you follow me for a while, you know, I talked about this, it’s not always the tool, it’s how you wield it. But we hear terms like politics, and we hear terms like Machiavellian. And we immediately associate them with things that are evil, that’s not the case, politics have a huge influence on what happens to you, your ideas, your team, where you’re trying to go, the people the improvement you’re trying to make. So it’s hard to just ignore them. Right? Like, we have to have an understanding of how to maneuver politically, if we want to move the needle and achieve an outcome, does your department need more funding in order to hire on an additional member of staff? Yeah, you’re gonna have to use some kind of micro political interaction, right. So I think hopefully, you guys understand that it isn’t an occurrence in everyday life. Now. When we think about these things, and we think about the decisions people make and and how you navigate the politics you want to do so of course, without selling your soul, and you want an effective way of dealing with office politics, we’re just going to call it that in some cases, so that we understand how to play the game, without succumbing to it or complaining about it, because you do hear it all the time. If it was only this way, or man it you know, if this person was just in it for the right reason. And if I didn’t have to worry about the bureaucracy, all the bureaucracy, and you know how it goes, you know, there’s always some, listen, I hear you, take a breath. But this is the way of the world, you know, it is the way of the world, it’s what happens when you have 8 billion people who all want different things and they don’t have access to the same resources. And sometimes a resource might be the right ear, to speak to, sometimes a resource could be an actual physical resource, or it could just be opportunity. But you know, as much as terms like culture are thrown around in leadership literature, and things like that, for people not to understand politics is silly. It’s silly. You know, I mentioned some of the author’s earlier going back to Kaiser, Camorra for music and lust. And in an article that they wrote, you know, they said, culture is the tapestry of taken for granted assumptions, values, beliefs, and norms that determine the way we do things around here. Now, if you want more of an empirical definition of culture, I implore you to go back to listen to one of our early episodes, I believe it was in one of the first 20 episodes, I can pull it up for you before the end of this one. We’ll let you know where it is exactly. But we really get clear about what culture is because I don’t know about you, but it is bugged me for a long time, the leadership industry using these terms and throwing them around even the term communication. You know, part of the reason we started Art Of Coaching is we got so tired of, you know, here, okay, communication, what does that mean? And that’s why we get so specific about it. Alright, for your reference, before we move on. The culture episode that we did was episode two, ironically, so expect a little bit worse audio, there was my early days, we were figuring things out, but it’s a damn good episode. So when we continue to look at, you know, politics and good politics and bad politics, you know, bad politics are pretty easy to identify, right? That is when you are always kind of sucking up or backstabbing or you’re maneuvering behind somebody, you have an insidious goal and motive, you’re doing it in the exchange of somebody else’s well being or best interest, right? Like, I there’s plenty of stories out there. Every profession has its own. I’ve known coaches that literally were on their way out the door. And then they found out their assistant was trying to angle to get the head roll once they left. And that was before they were even out the door. We know people who try to trade take credit for other people’s work. They don’t credit people appropriately. They’re scared that if they tell, hey, well, this person helped me with this, then I’m not going to be viewed as competent. So there’s so many different kinds of poor politics andthey’re usually employed by people who, again, love gossip, they’re selfish, they’re lazy, they’re untrustworthy, and they really want to undermine the greater good, right? So I think we understand that. Now, how do we look at good politics? Well, and there’s many terms for this, I talked about micro politics is the umbrella term, you know, for this category as a whole, but a lot of times people that are savvy at political games, that can be social astuteness, which is defined as the ability to really read other people, and having the self awareness to understand how they see you, right like, and that can be self awareness too, depending on the empirical definition and the literature that you look at, of course, but for the purposes of this episode, the ability to read other people and the self awareness, understand how they see you is critical. You know, most people think of self awareness as introspection, but in reality, it’s also, you know, other awareness. And you know, if you know how other people see you and how your behavior impacts them, that is critical, because a lot of times we downplay our own influence, we’re very conscious of how others behave, other behavior, other people’s behavior impacts us. And we think that we just kind of go along. And, you know, we really don’t have an impact on things. And especially if you’re humble, you almost have this untrained eye to recognize the influence that you do have. And that’s something that you’ve got to be aware of, you’ve got to be able to understand, we all have way more influence than we think we do. And when we think of influence, I always go and use Yuko’s definition, or at least one of them. Robert Yuko out of the University of Albany, who talks about, you know, this is the psychological capacity or the use of power to bring about change, right, like we all wield some kind of influence. If you’ve taken my online course Bought In, you know, about the nine to 10 influence tactics we talked about, you have the sheet that goes through them and helps you measure and track what types of influence tactics do you use daily, so that if you’re not getting the outcome you want, you can actually go back, observe and evaluate right in an actual quantitative way and say, well, yeah, I’m tending to lean upon more inspirational and educational based tactics, I need to use, you know, some of these other ones instead, if you’re not aware of those things, I’d implore you to get more involved in our work. Because if you don’t understand how you go about influencing people daily, it’s really hard to know where you’re struggling. So essentially, true interpersonal influence, is you having the ability to affect how and what other people think. And that’s important. You do. I mean, like, whether, you know, we’ve talked about it in the past, you could look at something as somebody that isn’t adherent to taking their cancer medication. And you’ve got to reframe that so that they understand it’s part of the recovery process, right. We understand with Coronavirus. There’s this war on the virus, the words we use, as a culture and individually are meant to scaffold reasoning in a certain way. So people understand them, they engage with them, and that influences and starts to shape their preferences, and their way of utilizing these things. So if you don’t know how to personalize your message, to appeal to a greater cause, you’re really going to struggle as a leader, right. And that is all part of political gamesmanship. And doing it the right way, mind you, because that’s what we’re focusing on here. You think of your networking ability, networking, and we have a great episode again, on social capital. I know I’m referencing previous episodes, but we’ve gotten some feedback from people that are late joiners to the podcast. And, you know, they’ve said, hey, would help if you could let us know about these past episodes, I’m trying to do that. And balance that, for those of you interested episode 82 barking up the wrong tree and social capital is something that’s really helpful take on networking in the new era. So I hope you give it a listen. But when we think of the capacity to form mutually beneficial relationships with a wide range of diverse people, that’s what we’re doing when we’re building that social capital. Now, cynics can say that there’s, you know, most people that do that are slimy, and what have you. But again, it just comes down to how you do it. Of course, you know, if you’re somebody that’s just trying to network to advance your own cause you’re a giver, you’re I mean, sorry, you’re a taker, you’re never giving, it’s always just a game play to you of how you can get your information seen how you can take the next step. I mean, you’re gonna get sniffed out eventually. And that may take time. I’ve known people like this that are obsequious. And they are takers, takers, takers, yet always found themselves in roles where they’re making sometimes 400, 500, $600,000 a year. But when these people fall, they tend to fall really hard, and nobody comes to bat for him. So if you’re somebody that feels like, hey, you know, I struggle with this, because it does feel slimy. Just understand, you know, look at how you’re doing these things. Look at the value you’re providing upfront to people. And that’s a huge piece there. But networking ability, along with interpersonal influence, and your social agility and social astuteness are skills and things that comprise your ability to play office politics at a higher level and to be able to do them at a more ethical level. And then guys, just, you know, your level of sincerity, right? Like when you’re doing things, do you do it in an honest, open and forthright manner. I’ve taken heat on this podcast because at times, you know, a cuss word slips out here and there. And there are people that said, Hey, you really shouldn’t do that and what have you and guys, I never go out of my way to do it to seem edgy. If the podcast is a place, I can be honest with you, the podcast is a place where I can unabashedly be me. And guess what? If you have me for, if you invite me to speak, of course, I’m going to be, my professional hat is on and I am going to be appropriate for that moment in time. If you invite me to dinner, I’m going to do the same thing. But I’m also a guy that, you know, listen, I’m a human being. And I like to get down to brass tacks with people, man, sometimes words come out, and I’m not gonna apologize for him. I’m just not, you know, I always tell people that you need to judge individuals on their greater body of work. If you get so bent out of shape, about one little thing here and there, especially in a casual medium, like a podcast, you know, you’re gonna, you kind of need to look at yourself, right? Like, we know, what is said about people that judge so harshly, you know, usually it’s like, okay, well, let’s turn the camera lens on you a little bit. But you need to be genuine, and you got to be sincere in the way that you do things. And that’s going to be different for different folks. So I just want you to understand that there’s an accumulation of research out there that talks about political skill. And if you’re not skilled at these things, you don’t invest in becoming a better communicator, you don’t invest in understanding about more about influencing human behavior or our drives for example, if you haven’t gone to our drives quiz at artof, it can derail you and your career, it derails otherwise intelligent, honest, hardworking people. It does, and you think you’re going about it the right way, by not engaging in these games. And you need to be asking yourself a different question. How can I engage in these games in the right way, and we’re here to help you guide you through that guy’s you, we are like, there’s a greater good here, you can advance your interest and do all these things while maintaining your honor and dignity. So your challenge for today, I want you to write down and think about where you’ve experienced “office politics” recently. What was the situation? Who was involved? What were they trying to get at? Did you recognize it? What tipped your hand to it? When have you participated in these things? When have you done it skillfully? Where is an example where your foot went into your mouth? How do you teach it within your own community? Whether that’s your staff, or you know, and I don’t care if you have a staff of 500 or one, how do you teach it? Is that a part of your onboarding? Because it should be, you know, I even when I was just a strength coach, you know, I had to learn how to deal with the administrative department of that university, I had to deal with HR, you have to deal with these people. And you have to do so fluidly. And you have to do so in a way that honors them as well as your own agenda, right. And I’m using an agenda and a positive connotation there. But really reflect about these things. And if you want to learn more guys, and you’re having trouble with office politics, we coach people through these types of situations, right? You can go to This is our micro message for today. If you want more, let us know you can always reach out at, tell us what hits, tell us what doesn’t. Please just understand, right, like we’re a small team. So try to get to the core of your message. Do not send an eight paragraph email and expect an answer and 24 hours we’re real working people like you. We want to hear from you. But we got to make sure that you know we manage our communication and our time appropriately as well. That’s it for today guys, hope you enjoy the micro message let me know and keep listening. You can always go and find it at any place whatsoever. All of our podcast reflections just by going to Will talk to you next time.

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