The term ‘office politics’ needs no introduction as we know that all of your must be familiar with it. Everyone from your co-workers who try to your backstabbing managers at some point may have tried to sabotage your work, and you must have not known how to deal with it. Office politics is the reality of life in every organisation. Everybody who works in an office setting will be affected by some form of politics or the other. But if you don’t want to get affected by it, you will have to learn to deal with it. But how can you sail through in an organisation when you are surrounded by sly co-workers who are hard to trust? How do you navigate the murky waters?
How to Handle Office Politics
Facing politics at work is inevitable, the only way to cope with it is to be conscious of your behaviour and pay attention to the behaviours of others. Here are ten tips that will assist you in dealing with office politics.
1. Take Time to Understand the Psyche of Your Co-workers and Seniors
Politics is driven by the motivation of people and what they are after; therefore the first step is to understand the people around you, what they aspire to achieve, and what they think about the organisation. This information is never handed to you on a platter, therefore being tactful and a good listener is what you need to be to get people to open up. Everybody likes being heard and paying attention to what they have to say will help you gain their confidence. Listen even when they tell you things you don’t agree with and keep your opinions to yourself. This is especially important when you’re a new employee, do not try to correct or change them.
2. Analyse the Organisational Structure and the Informal Network
Office politics can be complex and bypass the formal organisational structure, therefore stand back and observe to understand how it works in your office. Instead of focusing on the job titles or ranks of people, examine who has the real influence over the political dynamics in the office; who is more respected; and who has the authority but tends not to exercise it much and who doesn’t have the authority but tends to exercise it whenever they get the chance. Understanding where the power and influence lie, can help you examine the relationship between people and map out their networks. Also, observe who gets along with whom and who the troublemaker is. Notice the drive behind their connections, whether it is based on respect, friendship, romance, or other reasons.
3. Be Friendly and Cordial to All
This applies more to large organisations as there’s always a chance that you will have to work with new people or teams at any time. In smaller offices, the established groups don’t normally change. However, being nice and friendly in general will help you a great deal as you can make allies, who can offer information when needed. Being nice doesn’t mean you always have to smile or flatter people. If you disagree with something, ensure your opinion is put across. Staying consistent and standing up for things you deem to be right will also help people understand you and eventually earn their respect. Your disagreement need not be shown unless it is a do-or-die circumstance which most often can be an illusion.
4. Make Friends
There are plenty of good reasons to make friends at work. For starters, you won’t be alone, and you’ll have someone to count on in times of trouble. Having friends will also make you happier as there are people around who understand what you go through at work and offer support. Living in isolation can adversely impact the physical and mental health of employees, therefore, if you’re feeling excluded by bad office politics, it’s good to try and make friends. Making friends and uniting with co-workers against a common bully is also an excellent way to contain the problem of bullying.
5. Maintain Your Integrity and Change the Culture from Within
When bullies try to undermine you or make you look bad, it’s natural that you will feel to do the same. But this is a poor strategy and can sometimes backfire by making you look small. It is impossible to change the behaviour of a person who is mean to you, but what you can do is to talk to them in private and calmly ask why they behaved the way they did. It gives them an opportunity to reflect on the situation and take you more seriously. The antidote to a toxic culture is compassion and empathy where you encourage teamwork and praise others for their work. By putting effort into building a culture of honesty and integrity, you can create a better workplace for everyone.
6. Be Genuine as Much as You Can
While you do all the above, ensure you are genuine and come across as a genuine person as well. It’s easy to give opinions or criticise as you listen to tales of the treachery of your co-worker or their cribbing episode but control the urge to comment. Listen more, stay silent, and judge less. Being more humane and accepting other people for who they are is a quality that will help you and bring you closer to other people.
7. Document Your Work
Being genuine and not wanting to engage in politics doesn’t mean people will let you be, you will inevitably get dragged into political tactics. It could be someone trying to take credit for your work or badmouthing you behind your back. It’s tempting to expose such people publically, but it’s important not to retaliate. Be smarter and document your work carefully and keep your bosses or co-workers in the loop about what you have done so when your productivity is questioned you can always prove yourself.
8. Refuse to Conform to Bad Politics
The pressure to conform to bad politics at the workplace can be quite strong as you try to fit in. If you’re often the good person in groups, this wouldn’t be the first time that you have stood apart from the crowd. Surely there are people getting ahead using the system, but you need not follow it to move ahead, there are other ways, and you can do things differently. Commit to being your ethical self and make your own course to your goals.
9. Build Better Connections
Once you’ve mapped out the workplace and how everybody relates to everybody else, you can start building your own network of people you want to associate with. It pays to look beyond your immediate team and through the formal hierarchy for people to build connections. Don’t be intimidated by influential people, even those who are up in the hierarchy, get to know them, so your high-quality network builds. Avoid empty flattery but be friendly with everyone. Try not to associate too closely with one group or another.
10. Aim for Win-Win Outcomes
Political conflicts come into to play mainly because of people’s conflicting interests. Many are raised with the notion that to succeed, someone else has to lose. They are often afraid of someone else’s victory because it implies a loss for them. It need not be the case most of the time. When people think in terms of how their success might benefit others so they can take something out of it as well, it creates better solutions to problems. Such a win-win strategy always endures and earns allies.
Office politics can make life hard for everybody. Through patience, observation and making better choices, it is not only possible to survive, but also beat the negative influences and even change how it plays out.