Office Politics

5 Tips For Handling Office Politics

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What is Office Politics?

Thinking about office politics, you can easily picture into your head a tough battlefield, with people stabbing each other in the back. A display of power and greed, pushing all limits in an attempt to get ahead. But is it really that bad?

However, office politics is a serious topic and it can make or break your career. Like with everything else in life, you don’t have only black or white, but all the shades of grey in-between, as well. It doesn’t help much to complain about how bad the world is, nor to sugar-coat the tough reality.

There are a variety of definitions of office politics. The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines it as “the activities, attitudes, or behaviors that are used to get or keep power or an advantage within a business or company.”

A more comprehensive definition is offered by Michael and Deborah Dobson in their book Enlightened Office Politics: Understanding, Coping with, and Winning the Game – Without Losing Your Soul. They define it as: “The information and sometimes emotion-driven process of allocating limited resources and working out goals, decisions and actions in an environment of people with different and competing interests and personalities.” This is a more operational definition that fits the workplace better.

Whether you are working remotely, from an office or picking up part-time gig work and odd jobs, it is crucial to network so you can forge and strengthen positive relationships with your colleagues. It is not just senior staff who can help you advance in your career. Your peers and junior colleagues can also become helpful contacts and give you some insight into the avenues you do and don’t want to pursue professionally. Even if you consider yourself a wallflower, there are techniques you can use to make the most of your working relationships, say networking experts.

Keep it professional 

No matter how frustrated, irritated or short-tempered you become, it’s vital you keep your professional composure. Things will affect you at work that you don’t want to react to and lose yourself. Remember that part of the political game is keeping yourself level headed and composed.

Deliver Massive Value Projects To The Organization

Making your projects a success is a must. Whatever it is that you do, strive to reach excellence, no matter how hard you need to work and to push yourself. Whether you like it or not, it is a reality that workplace politics play a big role in your success within an organization.

This approach is about doing the best work you possibly can and then go even beyond that. It is about embracing the vision and strategy of your organization so well, that you don’t only over-deliver on your assigned projects, but you go so much further.

Yes, it is a lot of work. But who said success was easy?

Some people may be expected to find out about a magic technique that can ensure promotion within a month. There are no short-cuts to success.

You may wonder by now what does over-delivering on your projects have to do with office politics?

Being politically savvy should come in the context of delivering massive value-added to the organization. This is because playing political games per se will not get you very far. Build a solid foundation of results first and then add your political mastery on top of that.

The good news is that when you do both, you WILL succeed.

Don’t Whine and Complain

It’s easy to complain about management, your boss, other people, your workload, deadlines and projects. Also, you will find many others who will join you in the blame game because it’s a nice release and feels good to find others who share your frustrations. However, whining and complaining is a passive approach that is about standing on the sidelines and judging versus proactively working toward eliminating the cause of the problem.

Develop Productive Relationships Across The Organization

The most valuable contacts aren’t necessarily sitting in the C-Suite. In addition to leaders you admire, look for possible connections at your level on different teams. Your boss’s boss’s boss may have plenty of valuable advice and experience, but someone closer to your level could have more practical advice to help you figure out the next steps on your specific career path—and they may have more direct influence. Even if you don’t think a connection will be useful now, it could be down the line. Establishing relationships with colleagues can help to ensure you are front of mind when a slot on a project, internal job opening or other opportunity comes up.

Demonstrate Integrity

This is a big and controversial topic. While some people get ahead precisely via stretching the limits of ethics, long term this is a losing game plan. We will get into more considerations on ethics in the next post, in which we explore what it takes to really master politics. But for now, let’s keep things simple.

Always demonstrate integrity:

  • Don’t reveal private information such as compensation level or secrets you overhear by accident,
  • Never denigrate your boss,
  • Don’t make a habit of managing personal matters during working hours,
  • Only accept gifts of reasonable value and in appropriate situations,
  • Take active steps to ensure you keep confidential information away from prying eyes,
  • Stay in-touch and build productive relationships while avoiding gossip

Be Ethical At Your Approach and Time

When you are subject to colleagues’ political tactics – such as taking credit for your work – it’s important not to retaliate. It’s tempting to expose the co-worker or boss in front of others, but this can backfire.

Make sure you document your work thoroughly and let co-workers and your bosses’ superiors know what you are doing and have done. This protects your reputation: if your work ethic is called into question by colleagues, you then have a way to prove your productivity.

Do not answer back

When colleagues try to make you look bad or undermine you, it’s tempting to do likewise. However, this can backfire: you may come across as petty, and is unlikely to change your boss or co-worker’s behaviour.

A better way to deal with difficult colleagues is to ask them for a private conversation. Calmly ask them why they acted how they did, rather than accusing them. This is often the best way to change behaviour, as it requires them to reflect on their actions.

Change the culture from within

Office politics should be looked at as something that can be reframed into a positive. You should work to contribute to a culture at your company that values people and discourages abusing people in any form.

The best way to do this is to praise others, encourage teamwork and be empathetic to your co-workers. By making an effort to change the culture to one of kindness and honesty, you can create a better environment for everyone.

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Office politics are a reality that we all have to face, and avoiding them altogether risks not having a say in what happens. It also allows people with less experience, skill or knowledge than you to influence decisions that affect you and your team. Remain professional  at all times, and don’t take sides, or get sucked into arguments or recriminations. When a conflict arises, remember that there doesn’t have to be a winner and a loser. It’s often possible to find a solution that satisfies everyone.

If you’re voicing concerns or criticism  of your own, be confident and assertive but not aggressive. And make sure that you take an organizational perspective, and not simply a selfish one.

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