Gossip, backstabbing, slander, career sabotage and sweet-talking: these are examples of some form of office politics that unfortunately almost everyone will have to deal with on daily basis. It can wear people completely out. Office politics often have a negative connotation, but you could also use office politics positively and consciously so that maybe you can increase your career opportunities without harming others.
Find below your 9 best rules on how to use office politics effectively and to your own advantage. Is this too far and beyond you? Then check out my perfect way out at the end of this article.
“I don’t do office politics, I don’t need that,” you will hear from friends and colleagues regularly. That is nonsense, everyone sometimes talks about a colleague while he or she is not there or asks the secretary why the director was so short-tempered this morning. Sounds a little bit like me, I thought I did not need it. Boy, was I wrong.
“Quality will emerge by itself,” is another frequently heard but naïve statement. Unfortunately, this will surface automatically – if at all – so slowly that you can wait until after retirement. In order to achieve something you have to play the office political game to a greater or lesser extent. This is the important life lesson that everybody has to learn from this!
Everything is political
One thing is for sure: political games are played in every organization. You have got to realize that each one of us pursues his own interests and is willing to harm others at least a little in order to achieve his own goals.
Office politics is a battle for scarce resources in which profit for one is often a loss for another. If you are promoted, someone else’s chance might be gone, and if you get a raise, the budget may be insufficient for the one after you.
However, it is still a shame for the civilized among us that malicious office politics can be particularly effective. In economically difficult times, decency and integrity often lose out to insidious scheming and underhanded sliminess.
Fortunately, not everyone engages in harmful forms of office politics, such as spreading malicious gossip or stealing other people’s work and ideas. You will have to decide for yourself how hard you want to play the game. The office policy rules below might help you advance your career while maintaining integrity.
Rule 1 – Know what is going on
Unfortunately, the fact that you act nicely and honestly does not mean that others will do the same. To survive in the workplace, you must at least know what is going on and what dangers you are exposed to. You can’t defend yourself if you don’t see the attack coming.
Keep your eyes and ears open, try to find out the interests that play a role within the organization and make sure you know how the relationships between people are. Who is arguing with whom and why? Who protects each other and why?
Get to know your colleagues and superiors. Make notes (at home!) About the ambitions, character traits, strengths and weaknesses, family and hobbies of your colleagues. Something as small as supposedly spontaneously congratulating the boss on his son’s second birthday can have an unexpected positive effect.
Rule 2 – Do the right things
Use the knowledge you have about your colleagues, your supervisors and the relationships within the organization. Get to know your colleagues’ directions for use to get something done. One is sensitive to flattery, the other to rational arguments and often a simple “please” already works wonders.
To promote a proposal or idea, look for “natural” supporters. Ask yourself who can have an interest in your idea and who is not. Let’s say you have a plan that can help you reduce automation costs. It seems logical to discuss this with the director of automation, but he could sabotage the plan. After all, he receives less budget when making savings, which is not in his interest. In this case, you have a better chance if the financial director is on your side.
Rule 3 – Gossip as a source of information
You will not learn everything through official channels. The greater the lack of clarity within an organization, the more dependent you are on informal channels and the more important office politics are.
Even if you are not gossiping, try to listen to voices in the corridors. Do not immediately believe what you hear, but always ask yourself who has an interest in spreading a certain rumor.
Also master the art of reading between the lines. Official statements and certainly the staff magazine is a source of information as long as you know how to find them.
The phrase “broke up because of a different vision of the policy to be pursued” is well-known, which simply means “big fight”. But there is more to be found: what does it mean that a certain project is canceled? What does it mean that a manager moves to another branch? What does it mean that a department has lost an important customer? In short, decode the message behind the message.
Rule 4 – Give and take
You need a network in order to progress, and what should be the most important rule in dealing with your network. If you always ask and never give, you will quickly fall out of favor. Ask yourself what you have to offer and don’t underestimate your own power. You depend on others to do your job, but others are also yours. Work carefully on your image as a reliable partner who does good business and who always pays back personal favors, but also expect to get paid yourself if you do someone a favor.
Rule 5 – Develop a political antenna
There will always be people around you who do not shy away from gossip and manipulation. Others, on the other hand, control the political game in a constructive way. Learn how the political game is played in your work environment. Who are the informal decision-makers? What interests are there for whom? How are the underlying relationships?
If you know what the political game looks like in your work environment, you can prevent yourself from being duped and react to it if necessary. You can learn from people who have a good command of the game.
Rule 6 – Prepare well
Don’t just prepare the content of the conversations and presentations. During your preparation, also think about how you want to act towards your conversation partner (s). Who are they? What is important for them to hear? What do they need to be convinced of your point of view? Which arguments will you use and which not? Which counterarguments can you expect and how will you counter these?
Rule 7 – Communicate professionally
Immerse yourself in your conversation partners. How do they communicate? Can they listen well or do they speak a lot? Do they care about the content or are they more people-oriented? Adjust your communication accordingly for an optimal result.
Don’t just throw out everything that comes to mind. Think about what to say and when. Timing in a meeting is important (if your supervisor is in a bad mood, it might not be helpful to start talking about an extra budget for your project).
It is also important to think about what you say and what you leave out. Putting everything on the table completely honestly and openly not only makes you vulnerable, but it also makes your story unclear. Choose what it takes to tell. Be sincere in that.
Rule 8 – Do not take matters personally
If someone does not agree with your point of view or method, then it is about the content not about you as a person. If someone resists a lot when you present a plan, you realize that they probably have a different interest. Your plan can be at the expense of his project plan.
Even if you have to endure a personal attack, you feel manipulated, you are gossiped about, don’t counterattack or sit in a corner grumbling. Control your behavior and continue to respond calmly and professionally. This will not be easy, but some people will master this.
Rule 9 – Ensure you are reliable
Make sure your people feel safe with you, that they can trust you. Therefore, do not share anything that has been shared with you in confidence, do not pass others by and do not burn others down. Make a further distinction in your behavior between manipulation and influencing in your communication and between slime and self-profiling.
Also be aware of the people who only appear to be trustful and do not copy them.
My final thoughts
I realize that the above considerations and rules might be a big ask for you, some of you you might even wonder what I am talking about. I fully understand as I had the same issues.
Whenever I had a job, I thought about nothing else than the job. I thought nothing else was important, so I worked hard but was not smart. And again, boy was I wrong. Remember the saying: you catch more flies with syrup than with vinegar. This goes for all life and certainly at work.
For me, sweet-talking did not work, I am just too straightforward, even to bosses. Some will understand, most don’t. So, what do you do when you cannot turn things around? You look for an escape route, a way out. Here it is.
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