Face it, the game of office politics is one you will have to play at some stage in your career, whether you like it or not. It’s a fact of company life and it will never go away. On observation, there are those who are natural at office politics. You know, the ones who are irresistibly likeable and always know what to say. For others, actively playing the politics game is uncomfortable and feels somewhat disingenuous. Irrespective of which category you fall in, it helps to be politically aware. A key part of that awareness is understanding that politics is not about sabotaging other people, but rather about positively lifting your career and others. Here’s my list of 11 tips that I’ve picked up along the way.
1) Listen and observe
As a newcomer to an organisation, it is worthwhile to take a step back and do a lot of listening and observing before you do anything else. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Watch how things are done in the organisation. What’s the overall climate? Does it support the advancement of people across the board, or is it particularly difficult for women? Use the first few weeks to see where the politics lie. Once you’ve sussed things out, you will be better suited to figure out where you fit in and then manage the politics to get what you need for your own career.
2) Have a personal plan
Map out your career path and set ambitious goals. Having clear goals will help you ask for what you need to learn and advance. Ask yourself, do you need additional job skills, experience or information? What areas of yourself will you need to develop? Are there contacts you can make, or relationships you can develop, that might help you? A personal plan will keep you in tune with what really matters.
3) Plug in
Whether it’s a cocktail party or a team lunch, go. If a group of colleagues are running the JP Morgan, join them. The point is to build your visibility so you can establish a good internal network. Getting plugged in will help you identify potential mentors, connect you with operational people to help you do your job better and campaign your career. If you are always absent from work functions you are missing opportunities to connect with the culture and stay attuned to the political context of your work environment.
4) Pick your battles wisely
The workplace presents its own set of problems and annoyances, but trying to fight every one of them will leave you emotionally exhausted and your colleagues thinking you’re a pain. Learn when to professionally stand up for yourself and when to sit things out. When faced with a conflict ask yourself “Is this something that will matter a month from now? In six months or a year?” If not, why bother? However, don’t sell yourself short. If someone is taking credit for your work, just speak up and politely say something like, “Remember, I played a key role in the matter” or “Don’t forget I was involved in the project”. Be discerning.
5) Avoid gossip
This is somewhat of a catch-22. If you isolate yourself from the organisation, you have a lot to lose. You also run the risk of opening yourself up to being a victim of office politics. On the other hand, if you get into gossiping, it could get you into trouble and be used against you. The best is to work on the premise of not saying anything that you wouldn’t send in an email to everyone in the company.
6) Don’t take anything personally
Not taking things personally is easy to say, yet hard to do. But it’s a worthwhile pursuit as letting your external environment dictate your emotions will continuously throw you off balance. Accept that you can’t control the moods of people around you, be it your boss, colleagues or a client. As Don Miguel Ruiz wisely says in his book, The Four Agreements, “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
7) Learn from the best
Apart from establishing professional relationships across your organisation, it’s great to find a mentor who can help you navigate the culture of your company. A mentor will be a valuable asset for your career. Based on their experience, they will be able to explain to you the best way to solve disputes, advise you on the best teams to join, provide tips on how to get a good appraisal and warn you on what not to do.
8) Take credit
Don’t be afraid to be noticed and own your greatness. Politics requires you to sell yourself. In their book Through the Labyrinth, Alice Eagly and Linda Carli share that people accept boastfulness in men but often dislike boastful women. However, being universally liked doesn’t count for much if it means being looked over for a position because you kept silent about your accomplishments and allowed others to take credit. Own it!
9) Brand yourself positively
People will associate you with the kind of energy you spread around you most of the time, be it negative or positive. Choose to ‘brand’ yourself in a positive light. Generating positive energy can make a significant difference to your work day, to those working around you, and more importantly clients. It also makes people want to work with you. When we’re presented with negativity, let it wash over you. Don’t absorb it, and don’t act on it. Kill them with kindness.
10) Stay in your boss’s good books
Don’t fight your boss, you will lose. Try to maintain a good relationship with your boss, regardless of what kind of a person she or he is. Getting in arguments and opposing the boss can do you a lot of harm. If you have a cordial relationship with your boss, then there is a high chance that if you are ever in a hot spot owing to vicious office politics, your boss will definitely look out for you.
11) Keep your private life, private!
Chances are you’re going to spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your loved ones. You’ll get to know each other fairly well and get comfortable enough to share personal information. However, sharing too much personal information can be unprofessional and dangerous as some people will use the information against you. Try to keep your personal life out of work. And try not to get romantically involved with anyone either – it’s a place of work and you should try to remain professional at all times. Can’t help yourself? It happens. Just keep the relationship discreet and absolutely no PDA at the office.
Credentials: Master of Laws (Labour Law), University of the Witwatersrand