Getting What You Want Without "Playing Dirty"
What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "office politics"? Is it all about "sucking up" to the right people, "backstabbing," and spreading malicious rumours? If that's the case, you'll want to stay as far away from it as possible!
But, whether you like it or not, office politics are a fact of life in any organisation. And it is possible to promote yourself and your cause without jeopardising your own or your organisation's values.
Practicing "good" politics allows you to advance your and your team's interests in a fair and appropriate manner. Furthermore, being aware of "bad" politics around you can help you avoid unnecessary suffering while others profit.
In this article, we look at why workplace politics exist and seven ways to "win" at office politics without lowering your standards of behaviour.
How Political Is Your Workplace?
To some extent, all workplaces are political because people bring their personal emotions, needs, ambitions, and insecurities into their professional lives.
We all want to be successful, but we don't always agree on what that entails or how we should go about it. When these personality and opinion differences become difficult to manage, office politics emerge.
And because we frequently care deeply about the decisions we make or that others make about us, we try to influence people's choices. We can be direct or deceptive about this.
Also, keep in mind that some people will always have more power than others, whether through a hierarchy or another source – or increase our power, but we may do so in a way that takes power away from others.
Finally, businesses have limited resources. This can result in teams competing to meet their own needs and goals, even if it goes against the "greater good."
Seven Survival Tips for Office Politics
Accepting politics as a reality is the first step toward making it work for you in a positive way. It may change over time as people come and go in your organisation, but it is unlikely to vanish completely.
Then you must devise strategies for recognising and comprehending political behaviour, as well as for establishing a strong and supportive network.
These seven tips can help you to do this:
1. Analyse the Organisation Chart
Office politics frequently work around the formal organisational structure. So, take a step back and observe for a while before mapping political power and influence in your organisation, rather than people's rank or job title.
To do so, consider the following questions: "Who are the true influencers?," "Who has authority but rarely exercises it?," "Who is respected?," "Who champions or mentors others?," and "Who is the brains behind the business?"
2. Understand the Informal Network
Once you've determined where the power and influence reside, it's time to investigate people's interactions and relationships in order to comprehend the informal or social networks.
Keep an eye on who gets along with whom and who finds it difficult to interact with others (but do so discreetly and respectfully). Look for cliques, in-groups, and out-groups. Consider whether your connections are founded on friendship, respect, romance, or something else.
Finally, try to figure out how the parties' influence flows, as well as whether there are any interpersonal conflicts or instances of bullying.
3. Build Connections
You can begin to build your own social network now that you understand how existing relationships work.
Look beyond your immediate team and across the formal hierarchy – coworkers, managers, and executives – in all directions. Don't be afraid of powerful people in politics. Instead, get to know them and cultivate high-quality connections rather than relying on empty flattery.
Be friendly with everyone, but avoid becoming too enamoured with one group or another. And, if you're thinking about having a personal relationship at work, make sure it's based on consent, avoid any suggestion of illegal or inappropriate influence, and never breach confidentiality.
4. Develop Your "People Skills"
As we have seen, politics is all about people, so having strong Interpersonal Skills will help you build and maintain your network.
Consider your emotions, what causes them, and how you deal with them. You'll be able to think before you act if you can learn to self-regulate. This type of emotional intelligence enables you to detect other people's emotions and understand what kind of approach they prefer or dislike.
Learn to listen carefully as well. When you devote time to listening, you will be able to slow down, focus, and learn. And people appreciate those who pay attention to them!
5. Make the Most of Your Network
You can build your personal brand and raise the profile of your team by cultivating relationships.
When you share your accomplishments with your contacts, they may open up opportunities for you, your team, and your boss to "shine." They can also serve as a "bridge" between you and your coworkers.
It's also critical to hold yourself accountable for your actions. This demonstrates your sincerity and character. So, solicit feedback from others who may have a different take on your work. This is a good way to learn what matters most to the people in your network, and it demonstrates that you value their input.
6. Be Brave – but Not Naive
Your first instinct may be to avoid people who engage in "bad" politics. In fact, the inverse may be more effective. The adage "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" is frequently applied to office politics.
So, get to know the slanderers and manipulators a little better. Be polite but wary, as they may repeat your words with a negative "spin." Try to understand their motivations so that you can avoid or mitigate the effects of their negative politics. Also, keep in mind that some people behave badly because they are insecure – this is a form of self-sabotage.
7. Neutralise Negative Politics
You can contribute to a more positive workplace culture by refraining from "feeding the fire" and engaging in negative politics.
For example, avoid spreading rumours without first carefully considering their source, credibility, and impact. Also, don't count on confidentiality. It's safer to assume that whatever you say will be repeated, so pick your "secrets" carefully.
Maintain a professional demeanour at all times and avoid taking sides or becoming involved in arguments or recriminations. When a disagreement arises, keep in mind that there does not have to be a winner and a loser. It is frequently possible to find a solution that pleases everyone.
Be confident and assertive, but not aggressive, when expressing your own concerns or criticism. And make sure you're looking at things from an organisational standpoint, not just a selfish one.
Office politics are a fact of life that we must all deal with, and avoiding them entirely risks denying us the ability to influence what happens. It also enables people with less experience, skill, or knowledge than you to have an impact on decisions that affect you and your team.
"Good" politics can help you get what you want while not harming others. To harness its power, do the following:
1. Analyse the organisation chart.
2. Understand the informal network.
3. Build relationships.
4. Make the most of your network.
5. Develop your "people skills."
6. Be brave – but not naive.
7. Neutralise negative politics.
Dr. Siddharth Chowdhury is a Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at VIMHANS, New Delhi and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org