Surviving Office Politics

By Cate Henry September 22, 2012 08:39 AM
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Surviving Office Politics

A female executive recently said to me, “I don’t play politics.” She’s talented and has worked her way up to middle management, but that got me wondering: do you have to play office politics to really succeed?

If in any way you are going to work, interacting with colleagues, brown nosing, scheming, gossiping, or out and out manipulating–you are playing some form of office politics. Everyone does. You just might have to flip your notion of what exactly office politics are to see how it works in your life. According to the book Secrets to Winning at Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work, by Marie G. McIntyre, Ph.D., “Many people feel that playing the political game involves devious plotting or blatant self-promotion. But in reality, “politics” is what  naturally happens when people with different goals, interests and personalities try to work together…the process itself is neither good nor bad, but simply a fact of life–and the morality of the outcome is determined entirely by the motives and goals of the players.”

So Let’s Play Ball

McIntyre goes on to suggest that many people often make one key mistake: “fail[ing] to realize that managing the political environment is just as important as managing tasks and responsibilities.”  Her number one lesson in is, “To win at office politics, you must first clearly define your goals…an old saying provides this advice: ‘If you’re not sure where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.’”

Where do you want to end up? What drives you in your career? Is it money, power, prestige, autonomy, job security, creativity, or a more challenging role? Start to look at those questions and you may have a more solid direction on how to play the politics in your office to your advantage.

Here are some additional tips to follow from an article in Psychology Today written by Ray Williams, a leadership development expert.

  • Take responsibility for managing your career. Don’t wait until you’re fired, laid off, burned out or fed up to revitalize your career. Reinvent your career on an ongoing basis;
  • Treat every encounter and conversation with people as an interview. Everyone you talk to judges or evaluates your worth. Make that conversation worth something by focusing on the other person and not yourself. And you never know where the next great opportunity can come from.
  • Focus on your strengths. Do what you are best at and what you have a passion for. Don’t focus on your weaknesses, you’ll just make them mediocre.
  • Extreme workaholics overproduce and overachieve at a cost.  Typically, they burn out and never regain their previous success levels, and often pay a personal price for their behavior.
  • Balance your focus on business results with a focus on people. Of course the bottom line is important, but not at the expense of people. Spend at least half your time cultivating relationships outside of work.
  • Stop being in love with the sound of your own voice.  Develop the discipline to listen 80% of the time and talk 20%.
  • Never be unemployed, not even for a day. If you get fired, or laid off, volunteer immediately somewhere for something that puts your skills, knowledge and abilities to work. The longer you are not meaningfully engaged, whether you are compensated or not, the more this will drain your energy and confidence.
  • Don’t suffer an abusive boss. If you can’t get the respect you deserve, leave faster than a speeding bullet.
  • Underpromise and overdeliver. The celebrity-professional athlete hype and heroic CEO promises of overachievement have captured the public’s fancy, but artificially so, when the performers can’t deliver.
  • Find mentors. Hire a coach, seek out a trusted advisor, preferably outside your family and work.

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