Dear Orna: I HATE office politics. Does it exist everywhere or do I just seem to find the wrong jobs?
~Signed: Tired of the Game
Dear Tired of the Game: Office politics can be very frustrating, especially when it creates an atmosphere of 'tribal conflict,' where teams are competitive instead of supportive. But I have to be honest and tell you that, yes, office politics exists everywhere. However, it can actually be a good thing if used in the right way!
Office politics are simply strategies that people play to gain personal advantage. The term has a negative connotation, though, because it typically refers to people who are evil or ruthless in their career pursuit. But good office politics can actually help you promote yourself. When it's good, it's simply referred to as networking.
In fact, studies suggest that increased political skill, that is, creating alliances, leads to better job performance. And the reason is simple. Landing a big account or succeeding at a large project requires help from all sides, and if you've done well building those relationships, you can call your allies into action.
Good Office Politics
Some people are just natural at office politics. You know, the ones who are irresistibly likeable and don't appear to have a manipulative bone in their body. But for those who are not naturals, there are three simple steps to succeeding in office politics:
- First, figure out the real organization structure based on political influence. Find out who is respected, who champions or mentors others and who are the real influencers.
- Once you have an idea of where the power and influence resides, identify the social networks where they live. What cliques have formed? Who gets along with who and how does influence flow between these people?
- And now, it's up to you to build relationships with those who have the informal, or behind the scenes power. Be friendly and be sure to be part of several networks. Don't align yourself with just one group. This is a situation where it's good to play the field.
Know the Mean People
If you have taken the time to find the real influencers within the organization, then you have probably noticed those people who are selfish and ruthless when it comes to their co-workers. Rather than avoid these people - as is probably your tendency - do the exact opposite. Consider the expression: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." It applies directly to office politics.
Get to know these people and be courteous, but always careful with what you say and share. Once you understand what motives them, you can more easily learn to stay out of their line of fire.
Be Both Political and Ethical
Yes, you can play politics and be ethical at the same time. Be a positive force! Don't pass on gossip or spread rumors. When the trail stops with you, people will know you have integrity.
Also, don't make it personal. In any office, people sometimes get angry with each other. But no matter what, always treat people with respect and dignity. People tend to remember moments when they were humiliated or insulted. Even if you win the argument now, you'll pay the price later.
Become a good networker and you will win at office politics!