Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

The importance of perception

Consider the following three statements about politics:

  1. The covert rather than the overt way of getting things done.
  2. Results achieved through informal as well as formal channels.
  3. The achievement of organisational and personal goals by using appropriate skills and strategies.

Some readers will be rather uncomfortable at the notion of acting ‘behind the scenes’, as implied in the first statement. With regard to the second, some will still be a little perturbed at the thought of taking the informal route when the organisation has clearly stated processes and procedures. Few, however, would have any problem with statement three – even though in the modern organisation the appropriate skills and strategies probably incorporate the first two approaches. This just goes to show how much room for confusion and misunderstanding there is in the case of organisational politics.

For the purposes of developing your own political intelligence, there are two key factors which you should consider if you wish to gain a better understanding of the issues involved.


The first is perception: two people can observe identical behaviour in a colleague, yet each will put an entirely different interpretation on it. The Production Director having coffee with the Finance Director ahead of the board meeting will be seen as socialising by some, yet to others it might represent a clear sign of manoeuvring to get one step ahead of colleagues. Which alternative we opt for will very much depend on the lens through which we observe others’ behaviour.


We can choose to put ourselves first or we can, whenever possible, align our aims with those of the organisation. There may be very good reasons for the way in which we go about achieving our aims and how we prioritise them. However, be aware that the approach you choose will determine whether you are seen by others as practising positive politics or the type of politics that invariably attracts negative descriptions.

Key point

It is crucial to understand that the response and cooperation we generate in colleagues will reflect their interpretation of our motives.

It is their perception that counts.

On this basis, the definition of organisational politics might read:

Organisational politics is not what I do; it’s why you think I’m doing it.

D Bancroft-Turner