You Really Need to Deal With Office Politics
For many, the words “office politics” conjure up an image of manipulative, treacherous, or slippery colleagues who suck up to the boss and flaunt their influence to get what they want. The words stink of injustice and are almost always used to refer to the underside of a workplace. Many employees flat out refuse to get involved or promise to keep their heads down, do their jobs, and avoid drama. However, there are a couple of problems with this. This view of office politics is incomplete, and avoiding it can harm your career.
It happened to me. I burned out at work, that is, lost my influence, because I ignored the hidden norms and rules that, for example, dictate which projects are approved and which are not. I was naive about the relationships and communication that I needed to get support in my work.
So, I spent a lot of time complaining about the unfairness of things. But the key decision makers didn’t really know me, and I had no idea of the broader organizational impact of conflicting priorities, different leadership identities, and uncertain budgets. If I had spent more time studying these factors and building relationships with people who could protect me, I would have had a different experience.
The desire to understand office politics in a broader sense and accept it as a natural and predictable aspect of work will benefit everyone. Here are some recommendations.
How to understand office politics
If you, too, are disgusted by this aspect of the job, it’s time to broaden your understanding. The text Organizational Behavior suggests this definition: “Organizational politics are informal, informal, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts to sell ideas, influence an organization, increase power, or achieve other goal goals.” Note the neutrality of the definition.
How these efforts are used makes them good or bad. Bad politics looks like falsifying information to get more funding, gossiping about colleagues, and attributing credit to others. Good politics looks like building relationships up, down, and across the organization, sharing information, and finding ways to advance the mission, which potentially means giving up on your own ambitions.
I advocate that leaders and teams start talking about good politics in order to get rid of the one-sided attitude towards it. Take a look around and notice how people use informal or informal ways to get things done for the benefit of the team or organization. You can also do this and be able to enter into workplace politics, but in the way that feels right to you.
Know the skills required for good office politics
If you want to learn how to navigate office politics, it is important to know the necessary skills. Gerald Ferris, a professor at the University of Florida and co-author of Political Skills at Work , and colleagues have identified four dimensions of political skills in the workplace :
- Social insight : knowing how other people see you and how your behavior affects them.
- Interpersonal Influence: The persuasive ability to influence how and what other people think by understanding them.
- Networking Ability: The ability to form mutually beneficial relationships with a wide variety of people.
- Seeming sincerity: Seemingly honest and open, which inspires support and trust. This is the key point: it is not enough to be honest. People need to believe that you are honest.
Researchers have found that high performance on these dimensions can boost or negate someone’s performance at work. As Robert Kaiser, Thomas Chamorro-Prezumich and Derek Lusk write in the Harvard Business Review , “These political skills affect your career regardless of your personality and intelligence. On the one hand, political prowess can be offset by the less sociable or not the smartest person in the room. On the other hand, a lack of political skills can incapacitate smart, honest and hard-working people.”
Knowing the right skills is the first step. The second step is to start practicing them. The easiest place to start is by building relationships with a wide range of people. Start in your own department and gradually expand across departmental divisions. The mindset to keep is focused on building relationships, knowing that those relationships can prove beneficial to future endeavors.
Partner with someone who excels in office politics
Since each organization has its own style of politics, it is helpful to learn from those who are intimately familiar with that culture. While learning can help, real progress is made by observing and discussing how policies work in an organization with an experienced person.
Even better, have someone give you directions while you hone your new skills. During these discussions, be honest and say that you want to learn how to positively navigate politics in the organization. Plan to hang out with people who only associate politics with something bad. You will be the first to train them.
If you don’t know where to start, ask around and find out who is the most respected in the organization. Don’t ask the most powerful or influential or even the most politically savvy. The people associated with these terms may be more closely associated with the bad rather than the good. Look for respect. Often these people have the ability to demonstrate healthy political skills.
As much as we would like to ignore or avoid office politics, we cannot. They are here to stay. They are a natural part of how people work together. The choice is how to play them, for good or for evil. Start practicing skills and collaborate with the most respected people. You’ll find that it’s really all about establishing and maintaining positive relationships in the workplace.