A simple guide to dealing with office politics
Office politics is defined as the tactics that people within the work environment use to gain an advantage in order to further their own goals. Whether you hate it, admire it, practice it or avoid it, office politics is part of life in any organisation – and it needs to be understood and mastered.
The term often has a negative connotation, in that it refers to strategies people use to seek advantage at the expense of others or the greater good, and is seen as something to be avoided. However, “good office politics” helps people to promote themselves and their cause fairly.
Denying the existence of office politics may cause you to suffer while others take unfair advantage, or you might miss the opportunities to properly further your own interests.
Accept that office politics exists
Accepting the reality of office politics is the first step to dealing effectively with it. Develop strategies to deal with the political behaviour going on around you. Observe these behaviours and then use the information you gather to build a strong network to operate in. Do this by:
- Observing company interactions for a while, to re-map the organisation in terms of political power;
- Find out who the real influencers and mentors are;
- Find out if there are any social cliques, interpersonal conflicts or difficult people in the office;
- Build relationships in your office that range across the formal hierarchy (from peers to executives).
- Build real relationships based on trust and respect instead of false flattery; and
- Be friendly to everyone but don’t align yourself with one group or another.
Steer clear of negative politicking and promote yourself positively. It is up to you to communicate your own abilities and successes to the right people through positive political action. When you spend more time listening, you are less likely to say something inappropriate. Get to know the negative politickers better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them. Try to understand what motivates them, thereby learning how to avoid or counter their impact.
Govern your own behaviour
Observation will help you better understand what works in your office. Watch other people and identify successful behaviours that you can imitate. Ensure that you:
- Don’t pass on gossip or spread rumours. If you hear something, take time to consider its credibility before reacting.
- Rise above interpersonal conflicts. Do not get involved in divisive arguments with colleagues.
- Always remain professional and remember the best interests of the business.
- Maintain a positive outlook, and avoid whining and complaining.
- Are confident and assertive but not aggressive.
- Do not take a personal view when voicing objections or criticism. Keep the organisation in mind.
- Always assume things will be disclosed rather than kept in confidence, and decide what you should reveal accordingly.
- Lead by example in your office or team. Be a model of integrity.
Positive or negative, office politics is a fact of life. Refusing to participate in it means that you run the risk of having no say in what happens to you, while people less qualified than you make the decisions. Learning how to use the power of office politics positively, while diffusing the efforts of those who abuse it, will make for a happier office.