Workplace politics is the highest form of flattery

Want to get a leg-up in the workplace? Dealing well with emotional situations and cosying up to colleagues of a higher standing with the boss can protect jobs and boost career prospects, Monash University research has found.

Associate Professor Herman Tse from Monash Business School has used a Machiavellian (Mach) test to examine the workplace character traits of 220 staff and their direct supervisors in the retail and automotive industries.

Studies showed that ‘high Machs’ have the ability to ‘suck up’ their emotions when they seemingly have little power, can adopt inter-office survival tactics, and align themselves with co-workers of a higher standing who can give them access to more resources and power than they had previously.

Additionally, ‘high Machs’ are more likely to feel threatened by other team members when it comes to office hierarchy and will mask their feelings of guilt and envy with active displays of praise and affection towards those seen as ‘office enemies’.

On the other hand, ‘low Machs’ tend to display their emotions in the workplace and become easily frustrated, generating a lack of respect and less influence within the team.

“Instead of being envious and harmful, ‘high Mach’ team members can be very calculative, calm and strategic in maximising their personal gains in unfavourable situations,” Associate Professor Tse said.

“Individuals are always sensitive to their relative status in different relationships with their boss and other co-workers which may affect their interaction with each other.”

‘Mach’ tactics are associated with the political manoeuvres first outlined by Italian Renaissance diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli, in his classic political tome, ‘The Prince’.

Those who scored 60 or more out of 100 in the Mach test – a range of questions about feelings and reactions about perceptions of colleagues and power in the workplace – are considered ‘high Machs’.

Associate Professor Tse said it’s common for people to draw conclusions about ‘high Machs’ being manipulative and cunning, but this isn’t a true reflection of their ability to operate well in an office environment.

“They are able to use this behaviour to get along with other team members therefore cementing their place within the team,” Associate Professor Tse said.