The Bottom Line on Office Politics

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Photo by Meme Binge, Flickr

What exactly are “office politics?” For many, the idea has become synonymous with deception, end-runs, sabotage and “kissing up”. If this describes the politics where you work, you’re probably dealing with a toxic work environment where politics alone are not the problem.  

Every environment that contains more than one person will have its share of politics. People who move ahead in their organizations are typically adept at office politics. But that doesn’t mean they’re using the damaging tactics described above. In healthy organizations, a more accurate description of someone who is good at office politics would include:

  • Being able to deal with people tactfully.
  • Knowing whom to count on to get something done
  • Understanding the structure of the organization so you can align your goals with its needs.
  • Finding out what additional education, information and skills you need to move ahead in the organization, and knowing how to attain them.
  • Knowing how to use what and whom you know in a positive way to reach your goals
  • Finding out what pleases your superiors, and doing it.
  • Going above and beyond what your boss asks for and expects. [1]

Becoming good at office politics (the constructive kind!) takes certain basic skills, the first of which is communication. It’s important to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it without getting people’s back up. Blurting out whatever comes to mind is not politically astute behavior. 

Listening is even more important. Politically capable people have well-developed radar. They listen carefully to what’s being said and notice what’s not being said. They also become good at reading between the lines, picking up on non-verbal signals, and keeping their ear to the ground for rumblings in other parts of the organization.  

If you’ve always avoided office politics, there’s a good chance you haven’t gone as far as you could in your professional career, since it’s incredibly hard to succeed in a political environment without some political savvy. On the other hand, if you’d like to start flexing your political muscles, here are a few tips to get you started:

Cultivate your interpersonal skills.

  • Take communications courses.
  • Spend more time working in groups and on teams.
  • Network more.
  • Get to know the people you work with and strive to understand what matters to them.
  • Get to know your boss as a person.

Gain a better understanding of the organization

  • Learn about the structure and history of the organization.
  • Get to know people throughout the organization, what they do and how they contribute.
  • Identify the decision makers throughout the organization and learn about the types of decisions they’re responsible for.
  • Find out what the organization needs to succeed and figure out how you can best contribute.

Cultivate connections

  • Seek a mentor who can help you understand how things work behind the scenes.
  • Become a resource to others—do your homework and be ready to step up and help.
  • Actively participate in work events and work-related social events.
  • Make friends and cultivate allies.

Rather than rejecting office politics because of a few destructive people, recognize that a hidden network of connection and influence is integral to any situation that requires groups to work together. Take the time to learn how the office politics work in your organization and then make them work for you.

 

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[1] Excerpted from How to be Skilled at Playing Office Politics by Patricia L. Fry. 5 Minute Workshops for Effective Communication. Briefings Publishing Group

Informal Communication at Work

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Reframing: an Essential Tool for the Workplace

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The words we choose determine how we are perceived and influence how we (and others) interpret day to day experiences. We’ve previously written about the importance of the words we choose in the work place and provided some communication tools designed to help in using words effectively. Today let’s take a closer look at a skill that can be used to help cultivate a positive response to challenges in the workplace. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Reframing - Why You Need to Learn How Reframing is not as simple as choosing to always “look on the …

Why Don’t We Listen?

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Mediating Workplace Conflict

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Managers, HR professionals, supervisors and team leaders have (at least) one thing in common: at some point in their careers, they’ll be asked to stand in the middle of a conflict and serve as de facto referee. When called upon to settle a conflict between two employees it’s important to have some tools at your disposal that can help you identify underlying issues, come to a workable solution and begin to restore co-worker trust. AHL Referee by Rick Dikeman, Wikimedia Commons Here is one such tool—a six-step process to help you mediate workplace conflict: …

10 Things You Should Never Do in a PowerPoint Presentation

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PowerPoint is still the most commonly used presentation software on the market. While interesting new entrants like Prezi are attracting some passionate followers, for over 20 years, most of us have turned to PowerPoint when we need to put together a slide deck. As an application, it allows you to do everything you need to do in creating an effective presentation. Unfortunately, it also comes with enough bells and whistles to lead you down the path to presentation hell. No doubt you’ve experienced some painful PowerPoint presentations in your time. If you want to be known as someone who …

Presentation Skills - Using the Tools of the Speakers Trade

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In spite of our increasingly digital world, the need for effective presentation skills has never been greater. Whether you’re conducting training online, creating in-house video content for your blog, or presenting the results of a project to your colleagues—strong presentation skills help. In his blog, 5 reasons you need great presentation skills, speaking coach, Mark Kyte, identifies these benefits you’ll realize by polishing your speaking skills: Orator by southtyrolean, Flickr Gain respect from colleagues Build your reputation within the industry Impress senior management Sell [more effectively] to your customers Gain confidence to stretch yourself …

Communication: Words Matter

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We use words every day: in conversation, when presenting to an audience or when we craft an important email. And the words we use matter. Much has been made of the fact that facial expressions, body language and tone of voice contribute greatly to the message we communicate. So much so, that we may forget the importance of the words themselves. Assuming that the intent of any communication, whether written or spoken, is to convey a message and connect in some way, the specific words we use can help or hinder. Use the Right Words One of the more common …

How to Keep Calm and Carry On at Work

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We’ve all seen the T-shirt "Keep Calm and Carry On." The phrase, created for a World War II-era British public safety poster, has been described as “quintessentially British” and has taken on a life of its own as a popular meme. Perhaps its popularity stems from a need for calm in the midst of constant change and information overload or maybe it just makes people think of Monty Python. Keep calm and carry on. Original poster from Barter Books, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Either way, it certainly serves as an appropriate slogan for anyone dealing with …

Managing Rumors and Gossip in the Workplace

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Rumors Grow, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain Wherever people gather there will be conversation; sometimes (okay, often!), that conversation becomes gossip, which may blossom into rumor. Much like office politics, rumors and excessive gossip in the workplace create a drain on morale that managers and HR professionals must get a handle on. Damaging rumors can cause uneasiness, distrust between management and staff and infighting between colleagues or departments. Allowing negative rumors to run wild is not an acceptable option. The only thing to do with destructive gossip and malicious rumors is tackle them head on—bring issues out into the …

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