Office politics is an inevitable part of everyone’s work experience.
On average, we spend over 50% of our day at work (not counting sleeping time). That is a huge part of life and arguably the most influential part of life on our mood, growth, and wellbeing.
For some people, work is a battlefield where you need to fight for survival especially if you are in a competitive environment or one with a high labour turnover. For others, work is looking forward to Monday because you like your colleagues and appreciate getting paid, and colleagues are perceived as team members or friends who help each other out when needed
Both are legitimate views on work. However, office politics can play a big role in deciding which one you end up in.
The term office politics is often perceived negatively and may scare people off because they think it is all about backstabbing, power-grabbing and political games that end with someone winning and someone else losing. However, if you understand how an organization works and its management style, you will realize that office politics can be used as a tool to help you progress inside the company. It is about understanding the rules and adapting to them.
Like any social group, there is a set of unwritten rules and dynamics for each workplace culture and each manager/department has their own way of doing things. It is about understanding the group, its members and how best to collaborate with them to get your progress moving forward (or sustain it).
With all this in mind, here are eight tips to handle office politics:
- Stop thinking that politics = bad
if you think being political is only about being manipulative, power-hungry, or unethical, then your view on office politics will be negative. However, the ability to adapt to different managers can save you a lot of stress and help you progress faster inside the company as having a good relationship with your boss(es) matters in having a positive office experience.
- Identify the politics at your workplace
The first step towards understanding how to handle office politics is to identify what type of work culture you are in. Depending on whether it is a competitive or collaborative environment, dynamics might be different. For example, in competitive cultures, even if you are friends with someone, do not expect them to “cover” for you because they may be too busy looking out for their interests. In collaborative cultures, people are more helpful if it is a legitimate request (e.g., you ask for someone to cover your shift because you have a family emergency).
3. Get into “people watching mode”
Avoid suspecting everyone and labelling them as backstabbers. Do not think negatively about people using office politics to get where they want to be. it is important to understand that everyone has their agenda and will use different tools to achieve them.
When you study human behaviour and reading between the lines of office conversations, you will understand why certain people are getting ahead of others even though they all have similar skill sets. Those who succeed are using what many call “office politics” (or networking) to help themselves progress faster than others.
4. Keep your eyes and ears open
This is closely related to the third point. The more you know about people and the work environment, the better. If there are talks, lunches or meetings where people come together and discuss various topics, try to listen in so you can keep track of everything. This will help you understand the relationships between departments and employees, and this will give you an idea of how much involvement you need/can have based on these dynamics.
- Find a mentor within each unit
No matter how good we are at our job, sometimes we need someone else to vouch for us to get that promotion or be considered for other opportunities (even if we have the right skills). Having a mentor who is close to management/the department head can help you get your foot in the door and be considered for opportunities.
For this to happen, it is important to build connections with people from each department so they will support you when you need them. Once again – observe first. Note what other employees are working on (in case there are any problems or projects) and do your job well. Also, keep communication always open especially with those who might help you later.
- Network, Network, Network
If you want to get noticed, act and start networking with people. It is not an overnight process that happens in isolation. Talking with others is crucial if you want to be involved in office politics and eventually move up the career ladder.
- Find out who has power and why
it is a crucial aspect of office politics. You can expect that those who have power will surely try to use it in their favour. Not only that but having good relations with those people will help you progress faster as well. Knowing exactly who has decision-making powers and how to approach them is the best way forward if you want to get ahead inside the company.
- Never burn bridges
An important rule not only for workplace success but also for life. Politics can change quickly, if you have a poor relationship with someone now, it may be over tomorrow so there is no need to create unnecessary tension or enemies.
Office politics is all about relationships, who trusts who and how much power they have. Understanding the politics in the environment you are working is necessary if you want to excel at work and enjoy a positive experience.