“Political moves are the navigation through your career – not the driver.” – Susan Ross
I think office politics gets a bad rap. And, since it does… how about using a different phrase altogether, like political savvy? Political savvy has to do with knowing how to get things done in your organization and knowing which colleagues will be most helpful to you. To do this, of course, you need to take time to form relationships with others. Some of the people I’ve coached have struggled because they were so task-driven, they thought building relationships was a waste of time. It isn’t.
One of the reasons office politics has a negative connotation is because of the high potential for drama. You know – the backstabbing credit stealers, the manipulative alliances. But, this doesn’t have to be the case. Positive politics is something that can and does exist. You don’t have to play games to win, but you do have to be aware of your surroundings and use strategy. Learn who the power-brokers are in your company. They may have overt authority or they may have more informal power and influence. Get to know who is respected in your organization and deliberately make connections.
Effective leaders know that office politics are a reality in any organization. They understand the company culture and know how to build diverse networks across the organization. They also tend to be keen observers who pay attention to body language and social cues. A politically savvy leader is assertive, has integrity, and stays positive in the midst of conflicts.
In order to win at office politics, you need to make a conscious choice about how to respond to certain situations. Over-reactions only make things worse. When conflict happens at work, we may instinctively react with either fight or flight. Neither is particularly helpful. Sure, it may feel good to momentarily sound off at someone who irritates you, but burning bridges at work will make it more difficult for you to reach your goals. In effect, you’ll be ‘shooting yourself in the foot.’ Getting personal in an argument is always a no-no. Instead of taking sides, be the person who wants to figure out how to get things done.
Don’t make winning a zero-sum game. Win-win is a trite, overused phrase, particularly in the workplace. But, it’s important to avoid being too competitive with people when it’s to your advantage to cooperate. Remember, you’re on the same team. Helping others get what they want will ultimately make it easier for you to get what you want. What political savvy boils down to is having good communication skills and knowing how to treat people.