By Phil Anderson, Faculty Member, Ashridge Business School
Disputes and personality clashes are inevitable in every workplace but can be turned to your advantage. In this article, I will be guiding you through the labyrinth of office politics.
No matter how well-grounded, polite and friendly you are, playing politics is unavoidable and an essential part of your office survival toolkit. Even if you hate the very nature of the term ‘office politics’, simply don’t want to get involved and believe you’re just there to keep your head down and deliver – unfortunately, you just can’t avoid it, you need to get involved at some level.
Clashes are inevitable from time to time at work. Wherever you have a group of people with different personalities, sets of values and opinions – and that means just about everywhere – you’re going to come across office politics. Even if you are fortunate to work in an office where everyone gets on all of the time, staff members can come and go, so it’s best to be prepared for the occasions when office politics might rear its ugly head.
As you can’t avoid it, you need to know how to manage the situation for yourself and others around you. There are some useful strategies you can adopt to minimise the effects of any clashes on you, while ensuring you are still seen as being on the inside, rather than on the outside looking in. What you should be aiming for is to manage any effects of office politics that directly relate to you and turn them to your favour or at least restrict their impact.
Here are ten top tips on how to navigate the maze of office politics.
1. Accept that office politics exists
You might curse those who sail through each day putting in a minimal amount of effort but still seem to rise up the ladder of your organisation. The fact is, that to ensure your progress, you have to play the game, and office politics is here to stay. You can’t ignore it and sweep it under the carpet. To win a game, you have to be part of it first.
2. Know your organisation
To move ahead in any organisation you must understand its structure, its position on contentious issues and its goals for the future. Learn who the influencers in your organisation are and where the organisation’s priorities lie. Knowing this will help you distinguish the most important people to ‘cultivate’ and also the correct way to respond in the best interests of your organisation when any given issue arises.
3. Watch and learn from others
Observe those in influential positions, or people who command the respect of others in the workplace. Ask yourself how they have arrived at the position they are in or why they are so respected by their peers. By learning how these ‘craft masters’ interact with colleagues and those in positions of power, you will find different approaches to both communicating with colleagues and reporting to those above you that could work better for you.
4. Influence your outcomes
If you’re trying to sell an idea or a project that is radical, new or controversial, it can be advisable to have the majority of decision-makers on your side before you begin. If you don’t, you could run the risk of failure or damaging your reputation. Alternatively, if you can persuade the most influential stakeholders to your point of view, this could help you influence others to go along with your scheme.
5. Stay in tune with your environment
Make sure your ideas fit in with those of the key influencers in your organisation. At the same time, be aware of your organisation’s overall strategy and ensure that your proposal fits in with the direction they want to go in. If you bear this in mind, you are more likely to find the appropriate solution to take the organisation forward. If you get it right, this will also raise your profile at work.
6. Behave ethically at all times
Stay on the straight and narrow. There is a fine line between what is ethical and what is not. Dirt sticks, so the best way to protect your reputation is to avoid trouble in the first place. Again, make sure you know where the organisation stands and what direction it is seeking to move in. Always ask yourself: ‘If they knew what I am planning, would they let me go through with it?’ If you are comfortable that you are doing it for the benefit of the organisation, then some would say that is an ethical approach.
7. Try to be a ‘good egg’ to colleagues
Interpersonal diplomacy is vital. Listen to others, show empathy to your colleagues and check on their wellbeing. But remember to create an impact, leaving the right messages wherever you go. Take time to encourage others and be positive. It’s about being seen as ‘the good egg’, one who is keen to support others and take new ideas forward. These are the key elements to winning the support and respect of your peers.
8. Make meetings effective
Prepare yourself thoroughly before every meeting so that you can gain the maximum output from it. When in a meeting, present clear-cut and organised plans, be bold and assertive, and yet also receptive to the ideas of others. If you are put under pressure, keep a cool, calm head and respond with a reasoned argument. Above all, remember that most decisions are made outside of meetings, so, hold your own smaller group discussions before the main decision-making forum.
9. Promote your accomplishments
Be proud of your accomplishments, and let other people know about them. Without blowing your own trumpet, make sure that your own efforts are recognised and noted by those who matter. Although it might feel uncomfortable, there is nothing wrong with advertising your success. So, watch how others do it, learn their techniques and find out which form of self-promotion works best for you.
10. Make good use of your network
Know who is good at what and who knows who. So if you decide that Mary is a key influencer, and she plays in the same orchestra as Joanne, you might find it easier to get to Joanne than Mary, strike up a conversation and find out more about Mary. This could be of value next time you are in Mary’s company. Try to remember people you’ve met and what they’ve told you about their own or others’ projects. Try to help them whenever you can and connect them with others because, ‘what goes around, comes around’. You might be surprised to see how others will then be more willing to help you.