Office Politics: Playing by the rules
No matter what line of work you’re in, and no matter how big or small your office is -politics will be at play.
You might not want to believe it, but it’s impossible to escape it. Everyone wants something – money, status, power – and people will employ a number of tactics to try to get what it is that they want.
“Informal’ environments are a lie,” writes Quora user Michael O. Church. “Complainers (even justified ones) and blowhards still get shot in the head, in these ‘informal’ environments. It’s just not publicized.”
What is “Office Politics”?
Office politics are the strategies that people use to gain advantage in the workplace, either personally or for a cause they support.
Office politics do not necessarily stem from purely selfish gains. They can be a route towards corporate benefits, which give a leg up to the company as a whole, not just an individual.
No workplace is immune to the struggles for power. If we wish to foster good working relationships, get things done or get ahead, experts argue that we should actively and consciously engage in office politics.
“The truth about playing politics is that you don’t hate the game itself. You just don’t like it when the same is played poorly.” – Dan Waldschmidt, Business Insider
There are two ways to play the game of office politics: the clean way or the dirty way. I would always encourage the clean way, but there are those who think playing dirty gets better results faster.
Dirty Office Politics: Avoid at All Costs
Many people feel like office politics are a dirty game, played by those power-hungry workers who seek to quickly move up the ranks and bag a big promotion.
Of course, these dirty characters do exist in every work environment – it’s just unavoidable. Try to avoid playing dirty yourself – you might see others using these strategies to their advantage, but there other ways to earn that promotion without having to use dirty tricks.
- Gossip – Office gossip is often used by an individual to place themselves at a point where they can control the flow of information, and therefore gain maximum advantage.Gossip is never good. Whether it’s about the company, the people, or situations – it can only lead to trouble. If you get sucked into a conversation about someone, or something very gossipy, make your excuses and walk away.Manipulation – At the root of office politics is the issue of manipulation. The goal of any manipulator is to control and influence the behaviours and actions of others. To do this, manipulators will use a combination of strategies including emotional blackmail, persuasive language, discrediting others and lies/distortion of the facts.
- Sabotage – Sabotage is one of the dirtiest tricks in the game, and the one that is most likely to backfire. By sabotaging a project, you are actually being disloyal to the company; if you are discovered you’ll be lucky not to lose your job.
Clean Office Politics: Use to Get Ahead
Employers looking for recognition for their work ought to seek a cleaner political game. Never underestimate the power of hard work, which will always make you look good, regardless of what your co-workers are doing.
However, if you’re in a particularly political workplace, there are some clean tactics you can also use to help boost your office goals. Use them sparingly, and remember the golden rule; treat others in the same way you would want others to treat you.
- Forge strong alliances – To win in the office, you’ll need your co-workers support – or at minimum their respect – to accomplish anything. The easiest way to do this? Be nice. Make sure you treat everyone with respect and don’t engage in negative gossip.Just remember not to overdo it. There’s a fine line between being naturally friendly, and being a ‘suck-up’. You’re not looking to be everyone’s new best friend; keep your relationships ‘business personal’.
- Always be doing something – Or at least try to look like you are! Aaron Taube said in his article on Business Insider, “At work, you’re essentially managing two different things – your actual productivity, and how that productivity is perceived by your bosses and peers.”If you don’t have anything to do, Michael O. Church recommends finding a skill you’d like to learn and working to get better at it. At least if your boss catches you, they’ll see that you’re spending your time working on developing your skills and making yourself a more skilled employee.
- Tactfully promote your accomplishments – It can be hard to promote your accomplishments without seeming like you are ‘bragging’ – but how can you impress your boss if you keep quiet about your successes?Peggy Klaus, the author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Horn Without Blowing Itsays, “If your boss’s boss asks how things are going, don’t just chirp, ‘Fine’. Use the opportunity to mark a specific triumph.”To avoid sounding arrogant, be sure praise your co-workers too if the work was a team effort, but don’t be afraid to highlight the individual efforts you put in as well.
- Be less predictable – The more predictable you are, the easier it is for others to manage you to their own advantage. Keep your co-workers on their toes by occasionally doing something unexpected – don’t say “yes” to everything all of the time.
- Avoid Needless Drama – Don’t get drawn into the drama. You were employed to perform certain duties, so focusing on doing your own job well should take up most of your time at work.
Dealing with Difficult Co-workers
Every workplace has its own fair share of ‘difficult’ employees. Don’t let these annoying and intimidating co-workers bring you down. Remember, it’s all about how you react to the situation.
- The Bully – Don’t show that you are offended by their remarks, and avoid pointless arguments and confrontations. Either use your wit and hit back with a smart remark, or simply walk away unaffected.
- The Gossip – It is sometimes hard to resist engaging in office gossip. When you are asked your opinions about a co-worker, talk about their strengths.Total silence is a good killer of gossip; gossip needs a good audience, if you don’t meet the criteria you’ll be avoided in future.
- The Arrogant – Arrogance is the by-product of unhealthy levels of pride and ego. The urge to take these people down a peg or too can be tempting, but try not to stoop to dirty tactics to do this; it’ll only backfire.Dealing with arrogant people takes a lot of patience and a great deal of self-control. Generally, arrogant people won’t listen to what you have to say, so sometimes you just need to smile and nod, comfortable in being the better person.
- The Confrontational – Maintain self-control and keep your cool. The less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgement to handle the situation.Make the person aware of how confrontational they are being. Say something like “why are you shouting at me?” or “why are you being so aggressive?” will make the confrontational person pause for reflection.
- The Bad Boss – No matter how bad your boss might be, never let their behaviour be an excuse for your own. You may feel tempted to slack off, take longer breaks and stop performing well – but don’t!Consider trying to build a better relationship with a difficult boss. Keep them up to date with progress reports and updates, and be direct in asking them what they expect from you. Acting as professional as possible will tell your boss that you are driven and make them able to trust you.
- The Know-it-All – Prepare and double-check your own facts; the more armed you are with knowledge, the less chance the know-it-all has to one up you.Remember to keep things professional. Accept their point of view, and provide an alternative or counter-act with your own experiences. Always back up your points with a source, and encourage the inclusion of other opinions and group discussion. This should teach the know-it-all to be a little more open-minded.
No work environment is ever completely free of politics, and the office is no different. But by accepting the truth and knowing how to cleanly act and react to the particularly keen ‘game players’, you can keep yourself in good stead and avoid all the needless drama.
Remember that the most important factor of any job is the work. Relationships and friendships come second. Keeping your priorities clear in your mind will help you to keep your perspective.