Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

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As this is one of the key skills that underpin political intelligence, it’s essential to master the components of effective influencing. The real payoff comes from being able to build support for your objectives without having to resort to either more forceful or underhand approaches.


People with high political intelligence are always well connected. Developing a network of appropriate people requires strong rapport building skills, which are also invaluable when creating alliances or seeking collaboration with others.


One of the differences between fox and owl behaviour is that the former tends to fall back on aggression whereas owls are assertive. Aggression is just as likely to create resistance and also jeopardises future cooperation. Assertiveness is usually respected and gives the owl a much greater chance of succeeding without being seen as doing so at the expense of others.

Listening Skills

Skilled listening is the mark of a person with political intelligence, who spends time ascertaining colleagues’ views, and possibly objections, before determining how to approach the issue in the most productive way. Attentive listening also creates trust and openness in others, whereas foxes rarely seem interested in what others have to say or think.

Questioning Skills

To gather important information and to gain a clear understanding of other people’s views, it is essential to be able to pose questions in a way that retains their confidence and creates an open dialogue. The real skill lies in knowing exactly the type of question to ask to elicit a full and accurate answer, one that provides the deepest insight into the other party’s motives.

Managing Upwards

The politically intelligent person spends considerable time managing upwards. Understanding, getting to know and supporting your boss, perhaps complementing their skills with your own – this will make both of you more effective and successful.


Individuals with high political intelligence have a clear understanding of their organisation’s culture – ‘the way it is round here’. They know how decisions are really made, where the power lies, who is in and whose star is waning. They are tapped into the informal channels and never lose sight of the ‘big picture’.


We all behave according to the values and beliefs that we have developed in our lifetime. Where we stand on the political intelligence model will undoubtedly reflect this. Any insight that we can gain into our own make up and motives will undoubtedly result in more productive interactions with colleagues and assist our attempts to manage the politics in the organisation.


This is not just for marketing your business, but for marketing yourself too.


Survival of the savvy

Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman, published by Simon & Schuster, 2004, 301 pages

As the title suggests, this is orientated towards becoming politically smart. There are key elements to assist the reader to:

  • Identify political styles and strengths
  • Tap into and manage corporate communication channels
  • Decipher the unwritten company rules and hidden agendas
  • Build networks to promote yourself and your ideas
  • Detect deception and filter misleading information
  • Develop a political culture with high integrity.

Office politics: a survival guide

Jane Clarke, published by Spiro Press, 1999, 132 pages

This well-balanced book addresses what office politics are and why they matter. It also provides a guide to the political types, using shapes to give different profiles and show how to recognise them. The value of influence and persuasion, being positive and proactive, is covered and illustrated through mini case studies.

A survival guide for working with humans

Gini Graham Scott, published by Amacom, 2004, 176 pages

In common with many books on this subject, this tends to look for the bad side of people behaviour, with reference to whiners, back-stabbers, know-alls and other difficult individuals. However, the position is redeemed with a chapter for each week of the year, offering solutions for how to deal with office politics, ethical dilemmas and seemingly unwinnable confrontations with difficult colleagues.

The rules of work – a definitive guide to personal success

Richard Templar, published by Prentice Hall, 2002, 224 pages

The book examines why some people seem to have the ability to progress smoothly through their careers, avoiding the back-stabbing, the ‘system’ and the politicking that cause others so much trouble. The answer lies in ‘the rules of work’, which include the ability to get on with the boss, being consistently regarded as brilliant and efficient, always seen as successful and confident and liked by almost everyone. The key is how people relate to each other in the rather artificial environment of the modern workplace.

Why do they call it business if it’s mostly politics?

Mike Latimer, published by Universal Publishers, 1999, 156 pages

For something slightly different, this is a tongue-in-cheek look at how corporate politics has evolved over time. Comparisons with the animal world are used as well as straight speaking when it comes to ‘facts evasion’ and other ploys practiced in the workplace. The real-life experiences of the author provide an enlightening and amusing perspective on the reality of organisational politics.

Corporate politics of IT managers: how to get streetwise

Robina Chatham and Keith Patching, published by Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, 2000, 314 pages

Aimed at IT professionals, this book addresses some of the most persistent of the problems that undermine their power and influence in organisations. It begins by placing the IT stereotype in context and then proceeds to challenge the IT person’s habitual past behaviours. Ways of rethinking IT services are suggested and the writers conclude by explaining managers can become ‘streetwise’ in today’s organisations.

The power of constructive politics

Linda Holbeche, published by Roffey Park Institute, 2004, 109 pages

This research document, developed through focus groups and surveys of 856 managers and HR professionals, describes how politics can be used constructively in organisations and also discusses whether gender makes individuals more or less prone to use constructive politics. It finds that:

  • People deploy political skills and use power and influence to enhance or protect their interests
  • Constructive protagonists use politics to achieve a beneficial outcome for others as well as themselves
  • In organisational terms, they would be seen as effective strategists, skilful influencers or powerful leaders.

Politics in organisations

Linda Holbeche, published by Roffey Park Institute, 2002, 62 pages

This report summarises the findings from a joint research project with Director magazine, based on a series of focus groups and a survey of 120 managers. It concludes that politics hurts performance by:

  • Reducing productivity and negatively affecting morale
  • Creating competition, conflict and lack of trust
  • Discouraging knowledge sharing and excluding key people from decision making
  • Reducing faith in top management and the departure of valuable talent.

Owl, fox, donkey, sheep: political skills for managers

Simon Baddeley and Kim James, published by MCB University Press, Management Education and Development, 1987. Pages: pp 3-19 of volume 18, part 1

For information on the origins of the political animals model.


You can also contact the authors directly: Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner