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The Miasma of Politics

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Unfortunately, as you exercise your talents as a healthcare or physician leader, your patience will likely be tested by overtly political behavior or at least the annoyance of the day-to-day dealings of office politics. It is important that healthcare managers avoid political quagmires in the workplace in the interest of providing stellar, progressive services to patients and to the healthcare organization.

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Office politics causes several significant problems for the healthcare manager and the healthcare organization as a whole.

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  • Politics inhibits productivity. Generally speaking, workers are not particularly motivated to perform well for individuals who are more politics-minded than performance-minded. A great deal of time is spent avoiding power plays and preparing for counteractions. Consequently, productivity suffers, and worst of all the patient is deprived of receiving the full range of services the healthcare organization is capable of providing.

  • Politics stifles creativity. Because politics can promote paranoia, team members may be reluctant to share new ideas or work in a group process that encourages creativity or innovation. As a result, staff growth and development are compromised or top performers relocate to a less political or, better yet, nonpolitical environment. Again, the patient and the organization suffer.

  • Politics cripples teamwork. Individuals who are suspicious of each other and have limited respect for each other end up resenting one another and avoiding open communication. Politics destroys allegiance and loyalty among team members and the overall objective of the team or organization. Group morale begins to diminish until finally individual employee motivation begins to erode.

  • Overt negative politics alters communication. Overt negative politics includes altered messages, altered presentation of messages, or flat-out noncommunication in certain situations. Politics often begin after a third party enters the picture, creating an unbalanced dynamic and opportunity for two people to discuss a third person—often in an uncomplimentary manner.

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Signs of Overtly Political Behavior

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Whenever a premium is placed on politics as opposed to performance in the healthcare environment, the team or department finds itself at risk of falling apart—or at least beginning to be much less productive. Five basic indicators that can signal overtly political behavior include

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  • Double-talk: Individuals who tell one story to one person and an entirely different story to another are double-talkers. Their motives may be to cover the bases on a particular issue, deliberately create disharmony, or simply try to pit two people against each other.

  • Backstabbing: Backstabbers overtly pledge allegiance to you and your ideas but covertly downplay them and insult your intelligence.

  • Power mongering: Power mongers try to control everything. These individuals are also called turf protectors or empire builders because they often use resources and territory as the principal focus of their subversive efforts. As a healthcare manager, you may fall prey to a power monger's claim of being in charge of something that in fact he or she has no control of.

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