Monday, October 29, 2007

Office Politics Can't Be Ignored

As the race heats up for the presidential nomination, it’s a good time to remember that politics isn't confined to just those running for office. In fact, some of the most sophisticated politicking takes place in the workplace.

Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of some on-the-job political maneuvering that would put even the most savvy national campaign strategist to shame? What workplace hasn’t seen people choose up sides, putting their support behind certain people while working to undermine others?

For those in the professional political arena, this is part of the game and they readily admit they love the rough and tumble stuff. But for those who want to just do their jobs, this is a nasty side of business they could do without.

Still, it’s naïve and unwise to ignore office politics that have been a part of the work life since man first earned a wage. The key is to understand that you can – and must – understand on-the-job politics in order to not only survive, but thrive, in the workplace.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Hating it won’t make it go away. In a perfect cubicle world, office politics would cease to exist. Forget it. You have a better chance of the Easter Bunny being named CEO. The sooner you accept it’s part of life, the sooner you’ll understand that you can deal with it and not sell your soul to the devil.
2. Know your code. While you may detest some of the smarmier aspects of politics in the workplace, it doesn’t mean you have to sink to that level in order to participate. You don’t have to lie, cheat, steal or cause physical harm – but you can listen, learn, be professional and ethical.
3. Seek win-win solutions. Politics in the workplace often get rough when someone is going to come up with the short end of the stick. If you become known for creating situations where everyone gets something they want, then you’re less likely to be blindsided by dirty politics. This may mean you give a little, or you negotiate with someone else to bring about a positive solution for a third person, but in the end, everyone feels they’ve gotten a fair shake.
4. Don’t gossip. Some people equate gossiping with office politics, and that’s a big mistake. Gossiping is dishing dirty on another person in order to put down or minimize him or her in some way. Office politics, on the other hand, means understanding the relationships among the people in your workplace, and how they connect to what you’re doing and want to accomplish.
5. Don’t hold a grudge. If someone plays hardball and actually sets out to do you professional harm, then you’ve learned an important lesson that you need to be careful with this person in the future and not provide another opportunity to hurt you. That doesn’t mean you shut down communications. In fact, it means that you stay even more in tune with this person to avoid a repeat performance. What if someone accidentally harms you and seems genuinely sorry? Then you hold to your code of conduct and accept the apology and go on to behave with professionalism. Remember that if you hold a grudge, then it bars you from learning from the experience and moving on.



Steve C Wilson said...

These are some great suggestions, Anita. We typically think of office politics in a negative sense, but I think there are times when "politics" can be positive. One textbook I read defines office politics as working outside the normal rules, which can also be viewed as "cutting through the red tape."

Just found your blog recently, and have been enjoying reading.

Anita said...

Welcome, Steve! I'm glad you enjoy the blog and hope you'll share your thoughts when you can.
As for office politics, I don't know any workplace that doesn't have them, and it's your relationships with others that are the real way we get work done...cutting through the red tape is exactly what it does. It's the people who use it for their own agenda, without any intention of helping anyone else, that inspire the negative connotations, I think.

shockjock said...

Great blog Anita. I think everyone can benefit from keeping their nose clean in the office. I've always found that the people enjoying the drama are the ones that never get their work done.

Timothy Johnson said...

Very good suggestions. Being a bit of an "office politics" geek, Anita, I'd invite you and your readers to check out - it's a great resource for people with office politics situations (and it's FREE). Sometimes it just helps to have a safe person to leverage as a sounding board.

Anita said...

You're absolutely right...sometimes just getting something off our chests not only puts it in perspective, but helps us see that we're not the only ones going through something. Thanks for offering such a valuable resource.