Office politics is a fact of company life. Wherever there are two or more people working together, there will be politics and there will be opportunity for conflict. However, destructive office politics can demoralise people in an organisation, hamper productivity, and increase turnover of good staff,.
Much as you might like to avoid them, the best way to deal with political environments is to engage them, to turn toward them. To turn away is to abdicate your responsibilities as a leader and manager. It is to let down yourself, your team, and even the organisation as a whole.
Unless you reach out, engage others, and create active, on-going relationships — relationships you sustain even when there’s no immediate problem — you will lack the ability to exercise influence beyond your group. And even in your own world, your influence will be limited. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who lacked any organizational clout or credibility, you know how frustrating that is.
I’m not saying you have to play ‘politics’, but it’s important that you can see when it’s happening, build the right relationships and communicate effectively with key stakeholders in your organisation on an ongoing basis.
So how do you go about playing politics without the politics? Be P.O.L.I.T.I.C.A.L.L.Y S.A.V.V.Y
P – Perform!
First and foremost, be a top performer. Do your job, plus 1%. Be known as a “Star” — someone people want on their team. Volunteer for projects and new initiatives.
O – Observe behaviours
Observing your peers and managers act in certain situations can teach you a great deal about peoples’ inter-relationships, their allegiances and their battles. An understanding of these relationships and power struggles may help you in building the right relationships and avoiding unnecessary conflict in the future.
L – Lead by example
People in an organisation look to leadership to see how to act. Do you want your team to refrain from negative politics? Do you want to see collaboration and teamwork instead of petty rivalries, jealousy, and back-stabbing? Act the way you want your people to act, and they will follow you.
Stand for the right things. Reputations are hard to build and easy to destroy. Be known as a person who is trustworthy, reliable, honest and fair. Do what you say you will do. Speak up when you hear false rumours, unfair criticism or slurs. Even if you are not liked by everyone, you will be respected by most.
I – Invest in others’ success
We all have responsibilities and objectives, and those things should receive priority. Nonetheless, if it doesn’t take too much time, being helpful to others can reap benefits for you. Be willing to share your expertise, experience and insights with others. You’ll gain greater confidence as people develop and, as they advance, you’ll broaden your network and access to information, resources, etc. One way to convert your ‘competitors’ to allies: help them succeed.
T – Think Win – Win
Learn to think in terms of “how can we both win out of this situation?” This requires that you first understand the other party’s perspective and what’s in it for him or her. Next, understand what’s in it for you. Strive to seek out a resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties. Doing this will ensure that everyone truly commit to the agree resolution and not pay only lip-service to it.
People simply don’t like to lose. You may get away with win-lose tactics once or twice, but very soon, you’ll find yourself without allies in the workplace. Thinking win-win is an enduring strategy that builds allies and help you win in the long-term.
I – Identify key players
To survive office politics, know who the key players are. Obviously, you can pick out the senior management team. There will be other people in the organisation who are looked to for answers and opinions, even by the boss. They may or may not be the most senior or experienced. You can pick them out because they will usually voice an opinion or provide input on most subjects. You will observe people going to them for counsel, advice and insight. Knowing who’s who in your organisation is important, as you need to learn from these people and understand what is being prized and rewarded.
C – Cast the right shadow
The best way to keep out of trouble politically is to be seen as someone who doesn’t play office politics. Do what you say you’re going to do, alert people to problems, and admit your mistakes. Others will respect you, even if they don’t always agree with you. More important, you have a lower chance of being a victim of politics.
A – Avoid Gossip
Gossiping is the fuel for workplace politics. Gossiping means that things are not dealt with directly and can be very damaging. Whatever has been said is usually distorted as it is passed around, whether intentionally or not. Be direct and deal with things professionally. Try not to gossip — and if someone tells you something, don’t pass it on. You can let your co-workers know (verbally or by your actions) that you don’t want to engage in gossip. This can be hard initially but once people see that you mean what you say, they will respect you for it. Take a step back and try and be objective — it will help you to keep a professional distance and avoid being pulled into politics yourself.
Resist the temptation to publicly blame and criticize those above you — they may not be
perfect but they’re probably doing what they believe is best. Work to see the whole picture of a situation but realise that you’re rarely privy to every piece of the puzzle.
L – Learn lessons fast
Be willing to own up to your mistakes and failures; people will respect (and, hopefully, forgive) you for your courage. Always look for the lessons learned so you don’t repeat them. If the company’s culture and politics are making you miserable, move on. Decide it’s time to go before you are asked to leave or before you have lost your self-esteem. When you leave, don’t burn your bridges. Use your lessons to find a role or company where you start with a clean slate and thrive.
L – Live and work by your values
It’s an unfortunate truth that there are those who’ll do anything to “win,” but character and credibility count. You don’t need to play underhanded games to rise through the ranks. According to research by the Political Skill at Work authors, the four competencies that demonstrate organisational political skill are: sincerity, networking, interpersonal influence and social astuteness. These are all highly ethical and respectable behaviours, not the underhanded or unsavoury ones often associated with office politics.
Y – Your inner voice is normally right
Learn to trust your instincts. They’re normally right.
S – Strengthen your Network
Few of us succeed without help. Cherish friends and supporters. Cultivate mentors and confidantes who will offer good counsel and share important information. Seek advice from people you can learn from, people who can influence your career. Ask for candid feedback regularly.
A – Anticipate
To get things done, you have to see the world through the eyes of others. Too many leaders spend too little time anticipating. They over-focus on what they’re trying to do and don’t think about the roadblocks others may put in their way. Before you say or do anything you have to understand the agendas of those around you. Anticipating the arguments they’ll make is the first of the skills you need.
V – Value your people
Imagine the success your business could achieve if you truly engaged and motivated your employees by developing a climate that provided them with absolute clarity about where the business was going and their contribution to the journey; a climate that inspired only standards of excellence where employees strived to offer nothing but their best and were free to innovate and create; a climate that recognised and rewarded individuals based not only upon their contribution to success but also tailored to satisfy their personal needs and values.
This type of climate cannot be achieved using a Terminator leadership style, which inadvertently kills employees enthusiasm and passion for the job that they do and the company they work for.
Business success today demands a different inspirational leadership style that understands the importance of finding out what makes employees tick. A style that enables employees to understand why what they do is worthwhile and feel valued for doing it. A style that develops employees who look forward to coming to work and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to deliver excellence in a job and company they are proud of.
V – Visibility with the Boss
Unless you have unique and irreplaceable knowledge or skills (or are related to the CEO), your boss has more power than you do. Your manager also has greater access to key decision-makers. So it’s better to have your boss as an advocate than an adversary. Politically savvy people know how to “manage up”.
Y – You have a choice!
Winning requires you to consciously choose your reactions to the situation. Recognise that no matter how bad the circumstances, you have a choice in choosing how you feel and react.
Thanks for taking time out to read ‘Playing Politics without the Politics’ – Hopefully you’re now a little more POLITICALLY SAVVY.
Would love to hear how you’ve dealt with Office Politics!