Managing office politics
Spoiler alert; no one ever wins
Office politics have to be managed whether you have just started or been with your organisation for five years. Some people revel in the “game” that is office politics. Watch them, they’re like birds to bread crusts. Yet, you still need to work with these game players, to make sure you “work” it to your advantage to ensure your work/projects/campaigns get achieved rather than you being swallowed by the business machine. Let’s confirm a few realities on this subject:
- Politics takes place in every organisation; from SME to multi-national blue chip.
- Different people manage this in totally different ways.
- You won’t “win”, but you can manage it so you can be as effective as possible in working hours.
- Some people revel in it, some let it damage their health.
- We all have an experience of positive and negative office politics.
In recent years (certainly since the credit crisis of 2008), employers and recruiting agents have put “soft” skills at the top of the person specification. After all, technical skills can be taught, but does that individual have the attitude and approach to manage the minefield of personal agenda and organisational hurdle jumping?
Here is our essential checklist to ensure when you start in a new role, you don’t get sucked into someone else’s ongoing challenge.
- There is an “informal” network – time to observe!
Once you know who’s who in your new business, you’ll have some intuition on who has the power and where it lies. From your observations, you’ll be able to spot
- Who gets along with whom?
- Are there groups or cliques that have formed?
- Is it difficult for new starters to infiltrate?
- Who has the most trouble getting along with others?
- What is the basis for the interrelationship? Friendship, respect, professional gain? Manipulation?
- Where does the REAL influence lay?
Top tip from MRK Associates: Form your own opinions. Don’t let others form it for you. Acting on malicious gossip isn’t helpful, regardless of its “comedy” value
- Your network and why it’s important
This is where you can gain the trust and respect of those around you. Develop a relationship with your immediates; line manager, director, stakeholders and those (if applicable) who work for you. Get into a pattern of sharing information and knowledge. Diarise, if required.
Spend time with as many people as you can. Understand all their roles and their opinions. Through these conversations, you’ll strive for what their challenges are.
Be part of all the networks in the business; but don’t force the issue. It will take time. Don’t be afraid of anyone – whether they are “politically” active within the business or not. They are human after all. Through constant dialogue you’ll get to know everyone on the business (and supplier and other stakeholders requisite to your role). On your journey through the business, you’ll see who gets along with whom. It may take days, weeks, months but you’ll see it. With time, you’ll receive more information and you feel the influence trust brings.
Top tip from MRK Associates: Like an artist, your network is never complete. You have to work at it and continue to develop it.
- Be focused
Office politics can be incredibly draining. Getting involved in discussions and instances that don’t warrant your participation, are not advisable. If the challenge does require your intervention, be focused and channel your energy into understanding the situation and offering solutions not problems.
Top tip from MRK Associates: Maintain your integrity, speak to your growing network and disavow any irrelevant commentary. Mental strength is a weapon here.
- Use the skills you’ve been recruited for
You have core skills your new employer is impressed with. Use your expertise accordingly and don’t fear or fret seeking the advice of people more senior within the business. It’s good for you.
Always remember you have the influence and opportunity to influence.
Top tip from MRK Associates: Use your listening skills to understand. And respond at a timely occasion.
- Your outlook and positivity
Your behaviour, attitude and general outlook can positively determine how you manage the inevitable politics. People will feed off this. Integrity and your values are absolute throughout your time in any business. Gossiping, rumour mongering and “chit-chat” may appear appealing but maintain your stance of only relying on hardened information (to rely on).
Confidential and/or “off the record” conversations or emails do not exist anymore. Be careful how you use the information you receive. Do not let this work against you. Be assertive too – exploring different ways of getting your point across will ensure you do not get involved in something bigger than it really is.
Top tip from MRK Associates: Positive outlook and approach will be hugely beneficial as to whether office politics swallows you or you use it to your advantage.
- Don’t get personal or take it personally
Conflict is unavoidable in the office environment, therefore when this occurs don’t think this aimed at YOU, it’s the situation. In return, do not fire a retort that is aimed personally. That will make the situation worse, maybe “fatal” to your career at this particular business.
Top tip from MRK Associates: Separate the personal from the professional.
- Perspective and your network
Only make decisions based on the information you have and have requested. Basing decisions on personalities or past successes/failures is going to put you on a particular side; thereby contributing to the office politics. If you are managing a team or network, seek their counsel and keep it factual. If the politics you are experiencing involving someone in these groups – do not ostracise or overly think about the situation. Discuss non-specifically in team meetings and bring up in one2ones.
Top tip from MRK Associates: Remember your network is all-important, seek counsel and develop the relationships you have. Always keep growing your network.
As a final point and a reminder. Office politics is inevitable like night follows day. People use it their advantage regardless of position within the business. Use politics wisely, but remember you are the key to how it affects you. Make it work and you’ll get everything you need to be done, with a minimum of fuss.