Office Politics. You can’t say it to very many people without moaning or comments about how nasty it can be. Then there are those folks who say they generally avoid Office Politics.
As it turns out, Office Politics isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it can be good. It is also one of these things that when it’s bad it’s called Office Politics and when it’s good we call it almost anything other than Office Politics. You might hear phrases like “good leadership” or “well functioning group”.
“Politics”, no matter if it’s Office Politics or our elected officials, is a very simple AND neutral definition. Politics is defined by Wikipedia as: the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. Most of the time we think of our elected government officials and unfortunately when we think of “Politics” and we think of that dynamic as dirty and corrupt at this point. But, if you really look at the definition in its purest form, it is about how decisions are made. Look at any group ranging from AFWA, religious organizations or your employer, all decisions in a group impact people to varying degrees.
Following me so far? Are you starting to see that Office Politics isn’t necessarily about playing dirty?
Can you see now that a decision that can get made might be considered bad to some but not everyone in a group? That means that depending on your perspective and relationship to a decision you might see it as good or bad. I.e.: You got the promotion = equal good Office Politics V/S Someone else got the promotion and you didn’t = equal bad Office Politics. Same decision but you could easily view getting passed over for a promotion as the other person being a highly unqualified suck-up when the decision maker didn’t pick you. It’s not an uncommon situation.
With that in mind, how can you wage positive office politics and not lose your soul or self-respect in the process? Consider this:
Form mutually beneficial relationships – Let’s face it, we form relationships for selfish reasons, even if it is simply because we like the other person. It’s time for you to think more strategically. Who in the organization is in a position of influence or power? Who are the stars? These are good people to hang out with. Success rubs off. BUT, what’s in it for them? What do you bring to the party? Figure it out and then focus on that as you form these strategic relationships.
Manage up – We hear about this but don’t often understand it. Spend time observing your boss and their boss. Figure out what’s important. Once you do, engage them in conversations and information exchanges where their interests and your job intersect. Don’t assume upper management knows anything about what you do or how you contribute – so, tell them! Adapt their priorities and keep them updated. It’s hard to not totally love and support someone who has your back as a boss.
Be clear about your goals. You must have a career goal in mind for any of this to make sense. Otherwise, you’re just doing a job with no real “end-state”. Armed with that goal clarity, share your destination with those bosses. Strangely enough, when people don’t advocate for themselves, the assumption is you’re happier than a clam where you are.
Influence decisions –Consider forming relationships one at a time. While you’re busy chatting up your various strategic relationships, engage them and influence their thinking towards support of your needs. Obviously, you are there to reciprocate. Reciprocity is a highly influential action and you want to plan to do it often.
Read the system– It’s very easy to hunker down and focus on the task at hand. It can be too easy to ignore what is going on around you with all of that focus. At the drop of a hat, someone can fall into or out of favor and you need to pay attention. There are reasons for this type of shift and you not only need to be aware of it so you can also adjust your strategy but you need to learn from it. This should inform your behavior going forward.
It’s all about reciprocity. If you haven’t caught on by now, Office Politics is all about the relationships and what each person gets from another person – that serves their goals or agenda. It’s how the world works and investing in another person is never bad.
You can choose to be “above” office politics and when you do, you put your future at peril. I suggest you pick waging Positive Office Politics.