Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

Tackling negative perceptions

‘It’s everyone else who plays politics, not me!’

But more often than not, other people would be inclined to make the same assertion about you. We tend to see what we want to see. We seek proof for our suspicions and interpret the evidence to fit with our preconceived notions.

As human beings, we all do this to a greater or lesser degree, and politics feeds upon such suspicions in a big way. So conversations observed in the corner of the canteen, dialogue that seems to stop when we enter the room, copy memos sent to one party but not to another – all of these are grist to the political mill. We can very easily concoct all kinds of meanings behind perfectly innocent activities.

There are two sides to every story

The lenses through which we observe our colleagues act as powerful filters. However, they can mislead us into thinking that political behaviour is going on when in reality nothing untoward is afoot.


Here is an exercise which will give you an indication of your mindset in this respect.


If your result indicates a negative mindset, then you will probably also regard political behaviour as negative. This, in turn, will influence your judgement of others and send signals to them that are unhelpful. You need to redefine how you see others and interpret their behaviour differently. You can

  • challenge yourself with regard to what you believe you see or
  • alter your behaviour and note if you get a different response.

When we chose to view others differently, our own behaviour changes. In effect, we can’t do anything about other people’s behaviour until we do something about our own. Remember, we observe others and draw conclusions – but they are doing precisely the same thing with regard to us.

Overcoming your self-imposed barriers

Ideally, you need to develop a set of political skills and behaviours to enable you to respond positively at all times and proactively position yourself in a favourable light for the good of yourself and the organisation. This is easier said than done. You can, however, make a start.

  • Be more open in the way you go about things.
  • Let people know what you are doing and why.
  • Be careful not to leave out individuals who believe they should be involved; if you think they are wrong, tell them why.
  • Guard against getting caught up in gossip.
  • Avoid surprising people with decisions, especially where you can’t involve them directly.
  • Communicate better, faster, nicer.
  • Flag changes as early and in as much detail as is practical.
  • Explain decisions whenever possible, however unpopular they may be.
  • Spend time with those beneath you as well as those above.

These are just some of the actions you could take; there are more in the key skill pages. In any case, your personal list will always be more appropriate. What is clear is that the extent to which you are seen as political is largely in your own hands.