Corporate politics has a negative connotation.

You’ll often hear phrases like, “They’re being so political.”

“I hate engaging in politics.”

I used to have this perception as well.

I changed my mind when I took a class on Power and Politics at the Stanford GSB.

My professor made these simple declarative statements.

Anytime there are two people in the room, there will be “politics.”

Politics occurs when two (or more) people seek goals that may not be identical.

That’s it.

That’s politics.

It’s two people who want something, and that something may or may not be the same thing.

“Politics” occurs when you go out to lunch with a friend and you prefer Mexican food while your friend prefers Italian.

“Politics” occurs when two Vice Presidents want the company to grow — one wants to do so by creating new products; the other by promoting old products more aggressively.

“Politics” occurs when you want a promotion while your boss wants a promotion too.

“Politics” occurs when one engineer wants to improve the quality level of a product while another wants to improve functionality.

Sure, sometimes corporate “politics” seems unsavory in some way. However, more often it’s just a bunch of well-intentioned people who just want different things.

Sometimes you’ll see the differences as small and compatible.

For example, you getting a promotion doesn’t prevent your boss from getting one too.

Other times, you’ll see the differences as large and potentially incompatible.

If one Vice President wants to create new products and the other wants to promote existing ones more aggressively, the budget might not be sufficient to fund both ideas.

To navigate corporate politics well, you want to figure out what all the key people in a situation want.

Initially, it doesn’t matter what you want.

What everyone else wants is far more important.

Once you figure this out, you want to come up with a solution that gets everyone else what they want in a way that happens to give you what you want too.

You don’t propose that your boss give you a promotion.

You propose a plan that helps your boss get HER promotion — and of course, someone will need to take her over her existing role, which you would happily do.

See the difference?

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Navigating corporate politics is only one of a dozen core consulting skills former consultants bring with them to industry.

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