Office politics: Understanding how it works can boost your career

office politics

Office politics is a source of great frustration, hurt and stress for many people. If we had a dollar for every person we know who has left a company because of “the people”, we’d be millionaires. Okay that’s a lie, we don’t know a million people, but you get the point.

There’s just no getting around it. Your workplace is full of people, and where there’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of opportunity to build relationships – both good and bad. And these relationships shape a company’s culture and politics.

If you can learn how to forge good relationships and make them work for you, you can boost your career by promoting yourself, your team, and your cause without resorting to “bad” politics.

Here are 7 things you can do to successfully navigate office politics:

1. Understand that it’s part of your job

You might think that you can avoid getting involved in office politics if you avoid building relationships at work, but the truth is that even doing this could influence your career. For example, you might be overlooked for promotions because the colleague you’re up against has built good relationships with senior managers. Or you might struggle to gain buy in for a great idea you have because people don’t really know or trust you.

Office politics will affect you, whether you actively participate or not.

2. Understand the lines of power and influence

Think about the school playground. Who’s in the cool group? Who’s a rebel? Who’s the peace maker? How are “teacher’s pets” perceived? A little observation can go a long way to understanding where the lines of power and influence run.

Try to identify the informal leaders and influencers in the business. They might not be senior leaders themselves but have a lot of sway with these “formal” leader. They might be leaders of social committees or affinity groups.

3. Communicate clearly

Think about how you interact with your colleagues. Do you take the time to listen to them and ensure that you understand their points before you get aggressive or defensive? It’s difficult to keep cool when dealing with the negative side of office politics like gossip, manipulation or blame, but you will be better off if you can show that you take a calm, mature and straightforward approach to conflict. In fact, this is something that a mentor can really help you with.

It’s also worth remembering that email is a terrible channel for communication. It’s very easy to misunderstand a person’s intentions and tone. A quick phone call or face-to-face meeting might be more uncomfortable, but it’ll lead to a much quicker resolution.

4. Build a strong network

Your network is such an amazing tool for career development. Taking some time to nurture healthy, positive relationships with your colleagues could not only help protect you against the negative side of office politics but will also open doors to future career opportunities when they move on to bigger and better things.

5. Forge strategic alliances

If you work in a particularly toxic environment, you might want to consider building up a small group of allies who you can count on to stand up for you or to give you a heads up when others attack you behind your back.

6. Read the rules

Every company has rules – you can find them in your contract of employment. What we’re talking about here are the “unwritten” rules. For example, there might be an unwritten rule that everyone in your team only takes 30-minute lunch breaks, or that working from home is frowned upon even though it is allowed.

You don’t necessarily need to follow these rules but being aware of them will give you an advantage.

7. Be data driven

When all is said and done, facts are the only things that matter. Consider keeping track of your hours per using a tool like Toggl and try to get (documented) real-time feedback as often as possible.

A bit of attention goes a long way

Conventional thinking tells us that the best way to avoid office politics is to avoid it, but it makes more sense to learn how to play the game. Simply ignoring what’s happening in the workplace can be dangerous.

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