Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Communicating Realistically: Taking Account of Politics in Internal Business Communications

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

Communicating Realistically: Taking Account of Politics in Internal Business Communications

Article excerpt

With the entry into the market of Ronald E. Dulek and John S. Fielden's Principles of Business Communication in 1990, business communication entered new territory. The book assumes that office politics is a challenge with which all writers must reckon. The authors acknowledge that self-promotion plays a significant role in internal business writing and offer students detailed advice about how to protect their reputations with others in the internal messages they send.

Dulek and Fielden's assumption that a business is a political organization is recognized in other business disciplines. Within the substantial literature on power and politics in organizations is a significant tradition that defines the workplace as essentially political. From the perspective of Howell S. Baum (1989, p. 193), business is political because it has procedures by which individual interests can be promoted or prohibited in the allocation of scarce resources.

In his book Moral Mazes, Robert Jackall (1988), fleshes out how individual interests can be advanced or retarded within the corporation. Jackall describes the U.S. corporate environment as a world

where hard work does not necessarily lead to success, but where sharp talk, self-promotion, powerful patrons, and sheer luck might; where intense competition is masked by cheerfully bland public faces; where intentions are cloaked and frankness is simply one of many guises; and where words are always provisional and accountability often depends on one's swiftness at outrunning mistakes. (jacket)

In short, Jackall describes the large corporation as so entirely political that personal success is more important than meeting the goals of the organization and where personal success is attained by winning the favor of those with the power to control promotions and other perquisites.

Management textbooks, too, consider power seeking and attempts by employees to influence the thoughts and behaviors of their colleagues as basic facts of business life. Although the authors of these books regret that this is so, they find power and politics important enough to devote at least part of a chapter to them (Baron & Greenberg, 1990; Kreitner, 1992; Megginson, Mosley, & Pietri, 1992).

For example, Robert A. Baron and Jerald Greenberg, in Behavior in Organizations (1990, p. 421), suggest that political activity is triggered not only when scarce resources are at stake (as Jackall indicates), but also when uncertainty exists, when individuals or organizational units have conflicting interests, and when individuals or subunits have approximately equal power. Although the authors present these conditions as sub-optimal, they note that they are typical of most business places most of the time. Hence, they conclude that organizational politics is commonplace in the business setting.

Let us assume, then, that power and politics pervade at least some businesses and that business communication students would be better educated if they learned how to control the reception of their messages in such environments. In particular, then, what should they know? This article suggests that they should learn how to cultivate a favorable impression of themselves, develop a base of support, align themselves with people of power, and discriminate in disclosing information.


Let us begin by defining office politics. Despite the recognized importance of politics in business organizations, scholars do not entirely agree on what it is. They do agree that politics is the actions related to power and that power is the potential of one person to change the attitudes or behavior of another person in a desired manner. There is also considerable agreement about the sources and types of power; following French and Raven (cited in Baron & Greenberg, 1990), the types and bases of individual power can be enumerated this way:

1. Reward power is based on the ability to control valued organizational rewards and resources (for example, pay, information). …

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