How to Deal With Office Politics
As long as humans work together in organizations, office politics will always be part of our lives. Like it or loathe it, this is a fact of office life that you have to live with. All relationships are a power game at some level, and not knowing the unwritten rules of this game puts you at a disadvantage.
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Surviving Office Politics
When you hear the term “office politics,” the first things that come to mind might be people advancing their personal goals, backstabbing, currying favor with higher-ups, or gossiping.
The bad news is: you can’t avoid it. The good news is that after you read this article, you will understand what office politics are and how they manifest themselves in the workplace. Moreover, you’ll gain insight into how to not just survive office politics, but also to use them to your advantage.
What Do You Do in Office Politics?
Office politics are actions taken in the workplace to improve status or advance a personal agenda — often at others’ expense. These self-serving and greedy actions are unofficial, and that’s why the term, office politics, has a negative connotation.
When employees are regularly involved in it, they become less engaged, less productive, and eventually contribute fewer ideas for fear of negative ramifications. More often than not, office politics are detrimental to performance.
Office Politics and Their Effects on Work
However, you can use work politics to your advantage without necessarily getting dirty and compromising your values. Good office politics enable you to further your organization’s goals appropriately and fairly. Furthermore, being alert to bad politics helps you avoid needless suffering while your colleagues take advantage.
Watch keenly (while being as respectful and discreet as possible) to understand who gets along with whom, and who doesn’t. Observe the social circles, cliques, in-groups, and out-groups and decipher whether these relationships are based on respect, power, influence, mutual friendship, or romance.
Dealing with Political “Stakeholders”
To comfortably navigate through office politics, you need to understand who the players are before you can begin to try to manage them. These people are common in any workplace, and categorizing them will enable you to avoid the negative tension.
- Gossip hound: This is the person who is known for their love for gossip. They’re always all ears for any information passing around the office and will share the details with anyone ready to listen. Their tongues itch to share colleagues’ personal information and leak the business’s secrets. When dealing with a gossip hound, try as much as you can to keep the talk formal and business-related. When the conversation starts to drift to office gossip, exit the discussion as soon as possible.
- Credit thief: This is the most ambitious person in your office and will do anything to get recognized — even if it means getting credit for another person’s ideas. To avoid this type of person, ensure that you communicate your views and what you’re working on during meetings. Besides, frequently update the boss on your current projects so that the boss doesn’t get confused about who’s supposed to be recognized.
- Flatterer: This one seems to pass compliments on all sides just to win favors. While it’s difficult to know whether the person is genuinely complimenting you or not, you can always detect the fake energy and avoid them at all costs.
- Saboteur: This person is only concerned about personal gain and doesn’t mind throwing coworkers under the bus. They will often openly criticize others while being blind to their mistakes – basically the type of person that comes to mind when hearing the word “machiavellianism“. Keep your guard up whenever interacting with the saboteurs without necessarily showing that you’re ignoring them.
- Lobbyist: This is the office politician who can’t accept any other person’s views and believes his opinions are correct. Always speak up and explain your ideas whenever you disagree with the lobbyist to safeguard your interests.
- Advisor: This person is quiet and is often regarded as the brains of the business. It is the person that the leader confides in and turns to for know-how and assistance. Build trust with this person since they know a lot about the company and wield a lot of influence behind the scenes.
Levels of Workplace Politics
There are different levels of political behavior at work, and you should understand them to become politically savvy. If you find that your workplace falls into the last category however, you are well advised to change jobs rather than endeavour to manage the office politics at that level.
- Low to non-existent: These politics are evident in organizations (often small businesses) that are more results-oriented than politically based. Minor issues arise but are promptly resolved before they escalate. There is also a sense of collaboration between team members, and hard work is recognized.
- Moderate: This type of politics is often seen within small departments in organizations. Conflicts are rare, and when they happen, they are quickly addressed. Also, there is a team mentality within this category where employees are ready to work together.
- High: In a highly political workplace, formal regulations and the code of conduct might be there, but only followed when it’s convenient for the more superior employees. Some groups or individuals may undermine other people’s work, making for a toxic and stressful work environment.
- Pathological: When an office reaches this level of politics, day-to-day interactions may be highly stressful and demotivating. In these workplaces, it may be common for employees to use uncouth and informal ways to achieve what they want at others’ expense. Employees in this category tend to be less productive, and there’s a significantly high level of distrust between them.
How to Get Better at Office Politics
Do you ever wish that you could peer into the mind of one of the politically savvy leaders who seem to calmly dominate in an otherwise political office — and find out what makes them tick?
Well… here’s your chance to hone your political skills.
1. Analyze Your Org Chart
Office politics don’t always follow the official organizational structure. So, just sit back and observe — then map how the power and influence flow in your organization, regardless of the official hierarchy.
To do this, ask yourself vital questions like, “Who has the most influence?” “Who has authority but earns no respect?” “Who is the brains of the business?” “Who mentors other employees?”
After finding out who the influencers are, connect with them on social networks such as Linkedin and at a personal level. This is because influential people have a greater say in decision-making, and it’s better to have them as cheerleaders rather than adversaries.
2. Understand the Informal Networks
Once you know where power and influence lies, try to examine your colleagues’ informal interactions to gain a proper understanding of the informal networks.
Understanding the informal networks helps you navigate your company’s politics and build a positive working atmosphere since you know where to set boundaries.
3. Make Connections
Now that you have a good understanding of how informal relationships work, try fostering positive relationships based on your previous observations.
Cast your net wider and look past your immediate connections and cross the formal hierarchy — from coworkers, executives, and managers. Nurture positive and healthy connections that avoid empty flattery without being afraid of powerful people. Also, avoid being selective of the people you interact with by being friendly to everybody while enforcing boundaries and avoiding any suggestion of inappropriate or illegal influence. This is especially important if want to be successful within the first 30 days of your job.
Pro tip: Gossip can be fairly harmless if you just listen more and talk less. Socialize with the coffee maker and make a habit of listening to what they have to say about your workplace. These tidbits of information, which are often ignored, are vital for safety and survival and can lead you to the right person.
4. Utilize Your Network
After building your network, utilize it to the maximum in a way that benefits you, your colleagues, and the organization as well. Use it to offer support during stressful situations, develop implementable solutions, and generate ideas focused on everybody’s well-being.
These professional connections give you an edge to comfortably maneuver minimal to moderate workplace politics.
5. Develop Your “People Skills”
Politics is all about people and how well you can interact with them. The only way to build and sustain a reliable network of people is through strong interpersonal skills.
Take some time to look inward and focus on your emotions. Reflect on what actions prompt you and how you react to such situations. Being a master of your emotions will help you handle any situation that comes your way and pick up other people’s emotions to understand what they like or dislike.
Besides, knowing when to shut up and when to speak is crucial. When you invest time listening, you pick cues that help you understand other people better. After all, people like people who listen to them!
6. Know the Rules
What are your company’s rules, and most importantly, what are its unwritten rules?
Every company has its unwritten, unofficial rules that you have to abide by. For instance, the employee handbook says that employees should report to work at 9 a.m. every day. On reporting to the office, you find everyone busy having started their job an hour or two before. What happened? There’s an unwritten rule that workers should arrive to work 90 minutes earlier than the boss and leave an hour after the boss leaves.
These rules are not official, but failure to follow them will see you on the wrong side of office politics. It can also lead to delayed promotions, constant arguments with coworkers, and rough interactions with your boss. Know which rules are sacred and pay attention to them. Play by these rules since they are invaluable and can help you position yourself successfully for promotion.
7. Be Brave, Not Naive
Don’t reject the idea of playing the politics game just because your workmates are playing dirty. The best way to approach this without damaging your reputation and losing your head is by keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Give yourself the opportunity to know the manipulators and gossipers better.
Be as courteous as you can while being cautious of what you tell them since they can spin your words negatively. Befriending them gives you a better insight into their goals and what they want to achieve through their malevoloence.
Be extremely prudent in your approach and avoid the deep narcissists and Machiavellian types since they tend to be shrewder and more dangerous.
8. Neutralize the Negative Politics
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Trying to repay a wrong with another wrong can’t change the outcome, but will only fan the flames of negative politics that derail you.
While there’s often some truth behind a rumor, don’t rely on it too much until you verify that it’s credible. Also, scrutinize the source of the rumors and consider the impact before coming to a conclusion. As a general precaution, assume that everything you say will be repeated, so choose wisely the secrets you want to reveal.
Remain professional at all times and never take sides or get sucked in arguments — they never end well. And when a conflict arises, struggle as much as you can to create a perfect win-win situation and a solution that satisfies everyone.
9. Understand the Culture
Make it a personal objective to understand your company’s culture. Does the culture align with your personal values? Is it biased towards certain people? Are certain roles stereotyped to a certain gender?
Is the culture innovative, conservative, or hierarchical? Does it give you a chance to showcase your talents and advance your career? Do you have the opportunity to thrive in this company, or are the cards already against you? If you’re a woman, do mothers get marginalized and put on the mommy track? Does the culture fit my generation X type, or is it for millennials?
Understanding this information is crucial in helping you get promoted. Waiting for the results of your work to speak for themselves is a lost cause.
Navigating office politics is not a walk in the park, but a constant struggle to identify what works and what doesn’t. Follow these ideas to get comfortable with alliances, ambiguity, and authenticity on this rocky road to becoming more politically savvy.
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