Across the world, as employees slowly start trickling back into the office after nearly two years away from it, office politics may soon be a feature of our lives again.
So what's the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Office Politics? Gossip, Unethical, Unfair, Frustrating, or even Toxic.
The thing is, human beings are social creatures, and the use of relationships, informal influence, and power will always be part of how we engage with each other. Office politics are a by-product of that so knowing how to navigate them is one of the crucial skills every professional needs to have.
What Exactly Do We Mean by Office Politics?
It's all the informal, unofficial, and sometimes behind-the-scenes efforts that occur in the workplace. People try to position themselves, their interests, their teams, and their priorities to advance their personal agenda - sometimes at the expense of others. It is the manifestation of power dynamics among co-workers and it often involves the use of soft power and social networks. An example would be: one of your coworkers gets a promotion not because he is doing a better job than you but because he gets along better with the manager.
Office politics can be tricky to navigate. It often gets out of hand and can lead to anxiety, fear, and despair. The bad news is: you can’t avoid it! The good news is: you can learn not only how to survive office politics but also how to use it to your advantage.
It doesn’t have to be all about backstabbing or “sucking up” to the right people. With the right approach, you can advance your interests without acting unfairly or inappropriately.
Using Office Politics Positively
Let's say you recently started a new job. You quickly formed a good relationship with your manager. She invites you to an after-work, happy hour with other coworkers. Now, you feel more connected to them and it will bring you more job satisfaction. It’s a perfect example of how office politics can work in your favor.
Despite all the negative connotations, office politics is not necessarily evil. It's about influence and relationships, and the power those things give you.
Demonstrate High-Value, High-Quality Work
A great way to navigate the drama and conflicts at the office is to focus on the work. If you’re known as someone who delivers high-quality work, you’ll be trusted by your managers, no matter what. You may also be given more autonomy and independence. Stand out from the rest of your coworkers by becoming irreplaceable.
Make Positive Connections.
Forming friendships with your colleagues is one way to protect against negative influences in the office. Plus, when people feel they belong in a group, they feel more comfortable and are more likely to perform better. By showing that you are kind to everyone, you can grow your social network and build more positive professional relationships.
Remain Neutral During Conflicts.
Try to stay away from conflict as much as possible. Pick the right battles to fight, let go of small issues that don’t matter as much. Always assume that everything you say will be repeated, so choose wisely who you trust. Remain professional at all times and never take sides.
Keep a Record of Your Work.
Regularly update your superiors and co-workers about your progress. It can protect you from anyone who challenges your contribution to the company or questions your skills. That way you can easily prove your level of productivity.
Find a Mentor
It could be a mentor inside your company or outside. An inside mentor can give you an understanding of your company's culture, but an outside mentor can provide a new, fresh, and completely unbiased perspective, and teach you how company politics work in general.
It's in your interest to learn to successfully play the political game in your organization. Since you often don't have the option of sitting it out, you need to be aware of any destructive aspects in order to minimize their negative effects on you.
Make the system work for you rather than against you.