What comes into your mind when you hear about workplace politics? Probably backstabbing, sucking it up to the right people to win favors, or spreading rumors about other workmates. And it all sounds very wrong, right? If so, then you would want to steer clear from them.
However, you can’t avoid office politics. It is a fact of life that you have to live with whether you like it or loathe it. Relationship and power are closely knit together, and without knowing the unwritten rules and how to play the game, you will often be disadvantaged while others get rewarded.
In this article, you will learn what office politics are, their levels in the workplace, and how to manage them to eventually become politically savvy at work.
What Are Workplace Politics?
Office politics exist virtually in all organizations. In fact, most people are affected by them, with about a third of all workers loathing their daily job because of their colleagues, and 57% of them quitting because of their bosses.
Workplace politics are the activities performed by your colleagues to improve their status or propel their agenda — sometimes at the expense of others. These self-serving and greedy actions are unofficial, and that’s why the term office politics comes with a negative connotation.
When employees are regularly involved in workplace politics, they become less engaged, less productive, and eventually contribute a few ideas for fear of the risks involved by doing so. More often than not, these politics create a negative tension and rob you of the power to perform well.
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 best interests appropriately and fairly. Furthermore, being alert to bad politics helps you avoid needless suffering while your colleagues take advantage.
Watch keenly (while being respectful and discreet as possible) to understand who gets along with who, and who doesn’t get along with who. 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.
Types of Workplace “Politicians”
To comfortably navigate through the landscape of politics in the workplace, you need to understand who the politicians are even before knowing how 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 other non-issues, 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 himself/herself and doesn’t mind throwing coworkers under the bus. They will often openly criticize others while being blind to their mistakes. 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 assistance. Befriend 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 politics at work, and you should understand them to become politically savvy. They include:
- Low to non-existent: These politics are evident in organizations 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 colleagues in the workplace, and politics rarely affect individuals working in the organization.
- 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 working 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 Manage Workplace 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 exactly what makes them tick?
Well… here’s your chance.
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 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 which people have the most influence, connect with them more at a personal level (not to be confused with sucking up). This is because such 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 you’re starting and want to be successful within the first 30 days.
Pro Tip: Gossip is not that bad, but with the condition that 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 the 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, without showing them you understand who they really are. 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 maliciously.
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 they’re 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 itself is a lost cause.
The Key Takeaway
Navigating through office politics is not a walk in the park, but a constant struggle to decipher 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. For more information about succeeding in your workplace, feel free to visit our blog today, and get more insightful and actionable advice.