Death, Taxes and Office Politics
A popular saying in the U.S. is “there are two givens in life – death and taxes.” For those of us who work for a living, however, there is a third – office politics. No matter where you work, it will most certainly exist, and the best way to deal with it is to first understand why it occurs.
Office politics is simply attempts by individuals to gain something they have no control over but which they desire greatly. This usually is focused on power, money, and/or promotions, and generally stems from ego. Their desire and consequent actions can be influenced by events beyond the office, making it extremely complex and usually beyond our ability to influence, manage or eliminate it. So what can we do about it?
Nothing! That is, there is nothing you can do to stop it, but there are steps you can take to minimize its effects. The first thing is to realize that office politics is not personal. It is not directed at you or any other particular person; the words used, the actions taken would be the same regardless of whom was involved. It is solely focused on achieving the desired result. My top ten list regarding managing office politics consists of five “dos” and five “don’ts.” They are:
- Do good work. Prove yourself to be a valuable asset to the company by producing quality results which produce a positive bottom-line impact in a timely manner. This will endear you to the senior officers and shareholders.
- Do make others successful. Ensure that your efforts are directed toward allowing your customers, internal and external, up or down the organization, to achieve and surpass their goals. Allow them to take credit for the positive results. This will provide customer support and recognition by creating additional value for them.
- Do build relationships. Network across the industry as well as within your company to get a reputation of being an industry leader/expert and an irreplaceable partner who provides solutions before problems are recognized. Also build relationships, even and especially with those who employ office politics – it makes it more difficult for someone to criticize a ‘friend’ than someone whom is viewed as a competitor.
- Do maintain confidences. When confided in with information that is not to be shared, keep it to yourself. By doing so, you will be entrusted with more information and gain the respect of those around you.
- Do make yourself visible. Make appearances at meetings, give presentations, and provide frequent updates of projects to key players, especially senior officers, in the company. It has been determined that visibility, face time with officers, is more important in gaining promotions than are results.
- Don’t ‘bad mouth.’ Remember what your mother taught you – ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone then don’t say anything.’ By doing so, you will gain respect and increase the chances you will be confided in more frequently.
- Don’t ‘jump on the bandwagon.’ Don’t add comments that support the point of view being expressed when others are talking poorly of someone. It is very easy to do, we all fall into the trap when it occurs. This applies to situations when your boss/manager is ‘leading the charge’ with negative comments or when he/she asks you for your opinion of someone after something has gone wrong. Stay above the fray and do not appear to be making judgmental calls. If pressed, talk about how you would have handled the situation, not what your peer did wrong.
- Don’t share personal information. Avoid offering personal information whenever possible. The more others know about you the more than can infer and distort. Don’t share much of yourself to those you do not totally trust.
- Don’t get emotional. Remain calm and in control regardless of what is said or done. Do not let emotions enter into your response. Understand what was mentioned earlier, that office politics is not personal, it is not about you, it is about ‘them.’ Always act and speak professionally and politely.
- Don’t rely on verbal communication. Verbal communications are subject to misinterpretation, intentionally and unintentionally. Document conversations. It also helps prevent your ideas and thoughts from being ‘stolen’ and positioned as someone else’s.
These tips are intended only to alleviate the impact office politics has on you personally. Since you will most definitely be tested by office politics in your career, I offer one more ‘do’ – be true to yourself. There is no way to ‘win the office politics war’ without your character being called into question. And character is perhaps the most meaningful trait you can possess. It defines who you are.