Think Twice Before Distancing Yourself from Office Politics
I used to be one of those people who said “I don’t get involved in office politics,” before I realised the folly of my action (or rather, lack of action).
As noble as it might appear, aloofness from office politics will rarely work in your favour, especially as you begin to move up the career ladder into positions of greater influence and responsibility.
This doesn’t mean you have to attach yourself to the faction that most appeals to your workplace values and ideals though. Nor does it mean you need to join all the jostling for position or get involved in sniping and back-biting.
A Little Politicking is not Always a Bad Thing
Indeed, there are some very positive elements of office politics which can be taken advantage of—if you know how to play the game.
To demonstrate this, I want to share some hints and tips for handling office politics in a professional and responsible manner, which will ultimately do more for your sanity (and for your career success) than trying to rise above it all.
There is, after all, such a thing as being too lofty in your outlook.
Understand the Driving Factors
If you’re going to get involved in office politics in a positive way, you will first need to understand what fuels the political fire. Office politics is shaped by people of course, and the dynamics and relationships which act to motivate or influence them.
While a whole book might not be sufficient to describe these dynamics properly, it’s probably enough to understand the following levels of office politics:
Positive politics: This is the most common form of office politics, which you’ll be involved in either actively or passively on an everyday basis.
Positive politics is the process by which influencers in your organisation, at every level, manoeuvre and posture to win the hearts and minds of superiors, subordinates, and colleagues. In the main, this type of politics generates positive energy and ultimately, drives the business forward.
Negative Politics: Sometimes though, positive office politics can turn sour. If this happens, it’s usually because an individual or team tries to gain an advantage by disingenuous means.
The result is often a downward spiral into clickiness, back-biting, and senseless attempts by a person or group to undermine the achievements of others. This is the type of office politics you really want to try and stay clear of.
Tribal Conflict: This type of political activity is usually an inter-team dynamic and all too often, is caused when misguided leaders put teams, departments, or functions into a position where they must compete for resources. In my role as a supply chain consultant, I frequently see this type of office (or company) politics in play.
How to Practice Positive Office Politics
It can be difficult to get out of the way of tribal conflict when it arises, since that must be resolved by changes in corporate policy. Outright negativity can certainly be avoided though, especially if you embrace the positive political forces in your workplace.
The following quick tips will help you to stay positive and turn office politics to your advantage—and that of your organisation or company.
Make Your Own Org Chart
Forget the official organisation chart for your department or company. It has little political significance. Instead, you should map your own org chart based on political power.
This chart (which you might want to keep in your head rather than on paper—just to be safe) should highlight who the real movers and shakers are in the organisation.
Try to identify the intellectual “alpha” males/females, learn which people are respected most/least, who the natural mentors/coaches are, and which leaders exude authority and which ones don’t. This process of informal charting will reveal the levels of influence and power within your organisation.
Observe and Understand the Political Dynamics
Once you ascertain who is who in the informal organisational network, your next task is to spend some time simply observing the dynamics among those you work with. Seek to find out how influence flows around your team, department, or business function, and to identify any cliques or groups that exist.
Integrate Yourself in the Network
Now it’s time for action (although you should continuously maintain the process of careful observation). If you are new to your company, you should start actively building relationships within a balanced cross-section of the political spectrum.
If you’re not new, try at least to review existing relationships and how you manage them. You might also want to cultivate some new relationships in light of the political intelligence you’ve gathered.
In building your network of working relationships, keep the following golden rules in mind:
- Do not align yourself with any of the cliques you identified
- Develop your new relationships with respect and trust as the basis
- Avoid the use of flattery and ego-stroking as a way to curry favour
- Don’t get involved in gossip or rumour-mongering
- Stay out of emotionally oriented arguments
- Always consider your position from the perspective of what’s best for the business. In other words, address the business issues, not the personal ones.
As your own political status grows, use it only to achieve positive ends such as gaining information, promoting the professional image of yourself, your team, and your immediate superior, and discouraging others from engaging in negative office politics.
Don’t Set Yourself Adrift in Office Politics
Aside from being almost impossible in practice, distancing yourself from office politics makes little sense because as the title of this post suggests, it will impact you, despite your indifference to it.
In fact, by not getting involved, you’ll essentially be placing your career progression and happiness at the whims of others, at least some of whom will be less capable, knowledgeable and skilled than you.
Don’t make the same mistake that I did early in my career. Immerse yourself in your company’s office politics. Use your influence positively and neutralise the actions of those who play the game through manipulation, back-stabbing, and treading on colleagues and co-workers.
Group Managing Director
Phone:+61 417 417 307