When you hear office politics, you want to cringe. The term conjures up images of managers playing favorites, back-room deals taking place, co-workers backstabbing each other, and secrets being kept from all but the innermost circle. But in reality, even the most high-performing, employee-friendly workplaces have office politics. So, how can it be a good thing and what are ways to navigate through it?

“Good” or constructive office politics involve interactions where ideas and causes are promoted fairly and equitably. There are certainly many organizations where destructive office politics are the norm and people look for ways to leverage their own success at the expense of others, but organizations who cultivate constructive office politics find a way to foster positive advocacy and collaboration so that “all boats are raised” in the process. Having effective practices in place such as greater transparency in decision making, regular information sharing, skill building around effective influence and advocacy, forums to offer and pitch ideas, and opportunities for cross-functional collaboration create an environment where constructive office politics can flourish.

No matter what type of office politics are prevalent in your workplace, being proactive in how you deal with the dynamics is more effective than ignoring the situation. “I stay out of all of that,” one friend recently said. “The political animals in my office are always kissing butt and talking about how great they are. It’s obnoxious.” In digging a little deeper, it turns out that the “political animals” she referred to were getting high-visibility projects and were seen as strong performers.

My friend knew that she was just as good as these folks, but she finally had to admit that she was lacking the circle of supporters and advocates that they seemed to have. She began to see that being politically savvy was another key to success in her workplace. Yes, she was doing a great job also, but keeping her head down and churning out work kept her highly productive and totally out of the loop. So I offered her four ways to make office politics something she could participate in without feeling like she was a “political animal.”

  1. Observe and understand the dynamics – So much of office politics centers on who has power and influence in an organization. This is not just about title and position, but a lot about relationships. Become more aware of who has influence in your workplace, what the alliances are, who others tend to gravitate toward, who effectively champions causes and ideas, who people tend to avoid, and who the whiners, complainers, and gossipers are. The more aware you are of existing relationships and circles of influence, the better you can effectively navigate the dynamics.
  2. Tell people what you are doing – Your boss and people who can advocate for you do not necessarily know all the great things you do. When you have a win or accomplishment, share a brief update about it, outlining why it is significant and acknowledging others who helped to make it happen. Building visibility and awareness of your accomplishments in a positive way can open the door to other great opportunities and can make your boss and your team look good. Speaking up in general is essential to successfully navigating office politics. Asking for what you want, giving your perspective on things, and challenging others when necessary are all ways to ensure that your voice is included when important decisions and discussions are underway.
  3. Get out of your office or cubicle – You’ll never know what is going on in the office if you stay stuck behind your desk. Make it a point to walk around, greet co-workers, meet someone new, ask about others’ work, and keep your ears open for information that can be helpful to you and to others.
  4. Build relationships – As you become more aware of the dynamics, share information about what you are doing, and connect with people in your office, you will begin to build relationships. You can then leverage your network to positively influence decisions and opportunities that are important to you and your team. Remember that relationship building is a two-way street. Ask for advice and offer help and support when you can in order to build trust and influence. Even those who practice destructive politicking are worth connecting with. Understanding what drives them and what behaviors they exhibit can aid you in avoiding the negative consequences of their actions.

Shifting your perspective about office politics and those who use it effectively is the first step to seeing and realizing its benefits. Your ability to jump into the fray rather than avoid office politics can make your daily worklife much more rewarding and create pathways for even greater success.

In what ways do you positively navigate office politics?
Please leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

To learn more about how to make office politics work for you, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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