Have you ever worked for a company where managers seemed more focused on getting ahead than on getting the job done? Have you ever dealt with a colleague that seemed to want to make you look bad in the eyes of your superiors? Were you ever the subject of office gossip? If so, you probably hate office politics. And why wouldn’t you? While you’re investing all your time and energy into moving projects forward, some people you work with take credit for others’ efforts, flatter the boss every 30 minutes, create conflicts, sabotage other people’s projects, and still, somehow, manage to get promoted and praised.
Office politics are here to stay
Office politics are about power, relationships, and strategic alliances. As Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback, the authors of “Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader” say, you can act ethically and be super productive in your job and still need office politics to get things done. Playing office politics gives you power. If you don’t have it, you can’t really stand up for what you believe is right, you can’t move things in a good direction.
What Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback want us to keep in mind is that organizations are political, like any other group of people holding a diversity of perspectives. You can’t make office politics go away, but you can play them too and make sure you’re the one to influence staff and management and not those people making your life hard at the office.
Office politics can make or break a career
In an interview for Harvard Business Review, Linda A. Hill said something that sums up why office politics are important for your career:
Who you know determines what you get to do, and what you get to do determines what you get to know.
Building relationships that help you get access to knowledge about the company and where it is going can help you see into the future and figure out how you can play a part in it. Maybe the company will move into a field you’re very passionate about – knowing this can help you take on projects and responsibilities that can put you in a better position to ask for a new role or promotion.
What to do when you start a new job
Katie Koba is a Talent Acquisition Consultant working in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul Area and she has amazingly useful insights to share about dealing with office politics. The first thing you should do in a new job is to figure out what type of an organization you just joined. Pay attention to what happens around you, so you know if the work environment is more: competitive or supportive; traditional or innovative; result or process-oriented; team or individual-oriented.
You should also know the key players – who are the influential managers and employees? The managers, managers’ assistants, C-level executives, tech support, payroll managers are usually influencers who hold most of the power in a company. They possess more information than most employees. Only by knowing what the current power dynamic is, you can effectively change it to benefit those you want to protect or reward.
Another thing you should figure out is your managers’ work styles. Do they like talking face to face or exchanging emails? How often do they want to be updated on the status of various projects? What irritates them? What do they expect from you? If you can’t figure it out, it’s OK to ask.
When power shifts, you should be on safe ground
Sometimes, especially in the beginning of your career, you will be more often in someone’s circle of influence than being an influencer yourself. To make sure you’re always in the best spot you could be, follow these simple tips Katie Koba had to share:
1) Resolve conflicts and correct misperceptions quickly.
It’s not easy, but focusing on facts instead of feelings will make it a bit easier. Remember you shouldn’t take things personally. Be willing to compromise to smooth things over. Also, if you find out that people believe something about you that’s not true, set the record straight as soon as possible.
2) Be aware of unwritten rules and respect them.
Each organization develops its own ‘traditions’ and you should be aware of them. These traditions and unwritten rules can be about birthdays, gifts, after work drinks, desk space, visitors, etc.
3) Pay attention to office news, but stay away from gossip.
If you get the feeling someone is about to say something that might be interpreted as a smear campaign, that’s your cue to leave. You don’t want to be next to people gossiping and bad mouthing their colleagues and managers.
4) Keep written records of your contributions.
Have an Excel or Google spreadsheet, or a simple notebook, where you can record what you achieve in your position and how that is helping the company. In case someone tries to raise doubts about your performance, simply pull out your spreadsheet and make your case.
5) Don’t say things about people you wouldn’t say to their face.
Also, don’t email people things you wouldn’t like being read out loud in a court of law. Always be mindful of what you’re saying and emailing people.
How to get people to support you and your projects
It’s not enough to just not be disliked by people in the company you work for, you need more than that. You need allies, supporters, an entire network of people to give you information, help you be effective in your job, help you plan 2 steps in advance, and improve your career development prospects. That’s why you need to constantly build relationships. Kent Lineback has a great insight:
Problems are not a great way to build a relationship.
What he means is that you should talk to the people who might solve your problem long before that problem exists – befriend the IT guy, invite Betty from accounting to your girls’ night out, chat with your co-worker from the other side of the Globe and ask her about her kids. Be genuinely interested in their lives and how you could help them.
Office politics can help you get ahead, but it can also help you accumulate enough power to choose the projects you want to work on, protect your team and colleagues from poisonous assignments, steer work (and the company) in the right direction. It’s important for us women to hold more power inside the companies we work for so we could bring more of our way of seeing the world into the way the company creates and distributes value.
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