There’s no getting away from office politics. It exists in every organisation, and whether you’re a new hire or a storied veteran, you’re going to need to be able to navigate office politics in order to thrive in your role.
That said, almost all roles involve communication, even if it’s only to get your next task, so like any smooth-talking politician, you will need to develop sound strategies to get the attention and respect of the right people.
If you understand how to play the game you’ll get ahead, gain respect, and be well liked and valued. You’ve already got lots to offer, but managing the changing tides of office politics will ensure your hard work and valuable contributions are noticed and appreciated by the people that matter. Not only that, but being cordial and respected by your peers can make your day-to-day life a whole lot easier and more fun.
Here are nine tips for understanding and managing the politics in your office:
1. Develop your network
Networking within your business is a great way to build your reputation and be recognised for your good work. Identify the movers and shakers in your organisation, particularly the key stakeholders who affect your department’s activities. Be friendly and sincere, but don’t align yourself with any particular group.
Understanding who to network with is key, but it’s important not to burn bridges. Who knows when someone can turn out to be a valuable ally, or who might go where in the future? Be careful not to gain favour through alienating or devaluing others; not only could it cause upset, but it may come back to bite you down the line.
2. Understand the people
Make a point of observing the dynamics among your co-workers and team members so you can understand what motivates them and how they interact with one another. Take note of body language in meetings and pick up on who the influencers are in your organisation.
Interaction at lunchbreaks and outside the workplace can also be a valuable source of information. Bonding over shared interests and mutual hobbies can be a great way of getting to know a colleague and to get them on your side. If your office offers any fun after-work events, sign up and use them as a learning experience. And if they don’t? There’s nothing to stop you starting your own. That’ll put you in an even more influential position as a connector.
3. Manage your own behaviour
The golden rule is avoiding gossip. By all means keep your ear to the ground, but never pass on gossip, spread rumours or get sucked into group whining. Stay positive and maintain the organisational perspective when voicing objections or criticism.
There may be times when you can’t help but be brought into someone’s complaints or drama, and listening will help them feel heard – but try not to reciprocate or get too involved – otherwise things can get messy.
4. Understand the culture of your organisation
Get a handle on how things are done in your company. What are the core values? Are short-term or long-term results rewarded? How are decisions made? How much risk can you take? Armed with this information, you will be able to operate effectively and be rewarded for doing the right thing.
Being aware of how operations are run gives you a huge advantage and can really help you understand management – the people you ultimately want to connect with to advance your career. The better you know the company, the better you’re able to know who runs it.
5. Know how to negotiate
Gaining buy-in for your ideas is crucial to success. Do your research, get your facts right and present a compelling argument for whatever it is you need to achieve.
Identify the movers and shakers in your organisation, particularly the key stakeholders who affect your department’s activities. Know what they value, and how to give it to them. A good idea is crucial, but it’s just as important to figure out how to pitch that idea, focus on its merits and the benefits to the people you’re pitching to.
6. Manage conflict effectively
When managing people, you will inevitably have to resolve disagreements among staff members at some point. Try not to take sides or become emotionally involved. Focus instead on resolving the problem so peace can resume. How you handle conflict is your key to earning respect.
Be sure that both parties are heard, and that their grievances are addressed. If you end up playing adjudicator, make sure that your response is fair, and in line with company policy. Also, be kind. No one wants to feel like they’re being ignored, so try to value and empathise with both sides, and try to help them see each other’s point of view as best you can. If both sides can walk away heard, you’ll have a much greater shot at office unity in the future – and should have fewer arguments to boot.
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No one will know how good you are if you don’t blow your own trumpet from time to time. Be careful of overdoing it though, or else you run the risk of being a target of people’s irritation.
It’s important here to tread the line between self-confidence and arrogance. Bring up things that are relevant to the conversation you’re having – if you’re constantly referring to your successes, people will have no choice but to assume you’re showboating. If you mention relevant things that you’ve done, on the other hand, people will be interested and may even ask to know more.
Even better is finding someone on your side to talk about your achievements for you, and you can do the same for them. This will always have a greater ring of truth to it, and sidesteps the risk of you being perceived as self-serving.
8. Seize new opportunities
Identify areas where you can add value to your organisation outside of your normal role. Just make sure your everyday workload is under control and won’t suffer as a result of any extra work you take on.
Managers love to hear that things have been taken care of before they have to delegate – if you make their lives easier, they will reciprocate. The more you can do that helps the company, the greater chances you have of being promoted. Look out for chances to push the business forward, and don’t be afraid to be bold.
9. Find a mentor
Develop a relationship with a mentor in your organisation. Ideally this should be a person who is more senior than you, has been in the organisation long enough to know what’s going on, and has the experience to help nurture your career. This person will also be a valuable sounding board for working out how to deal with difficult people and situations.
A mentor will be able to tell you how things are done, and what the best route is to getting where they are. They’ll also most likely have some great stories about times when things went wrong for them, reaffirming that while it may be challenging to advance, people have done it and survived - and you can too.
Find more advice on our career advice article hub.
Communication, empathy and self-awareness are crucial to managing office politics. Know what your colleagues want and need, know what you want and need, and bridge any differences through clear and empathetic communication. Be sure to:
- Understand your co-workers
- Manage your own behaviour
- Understand your office culture
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