Office politics are a fact of life, and while you may prefer to steer clear of them, this could negatively affect your career prospects while others who play the game benefit.
Office politics are the strategies people adopt to get ahead – either personally or for a particular project or cause they support. While often viewed as negative, they can also be positive, especially when used as a networking strategy.
Business consultant Alexandra Tselios cites the typical example of a colleague taking credit for someone else’s work. “The person affected is usually the one who doesn’t like confrontation, so the one playing politics knows they won’t be challenged,” she says. “While people often get upset when this happens to them, it is rarely personal – it’s usually about someone trying to get ahead.”
The founder of facilities management provider Talio, Nathan Schokker, says it was office politics that forced him out of his last company. He worked for a commercial cleaning firm for 13 years but says in the final two years the politics became too distracting for him to do his job properly.
“It interfered in all my relationships – work and personal,” he says.
Schokker says a large part of it was office gossip. “There was a lot being said about me after a breakdown in a personal relationship I had at work and rumours started,” he says. “No one asked me what the real situation was and so people came up with their own preconceived ideas, which affected what they thought of me as a person and as an employee. I felt I had no other option but to leave.”
Steve Shepherd, group director at employment agency Randstad, says office politics are always going to be there, so people should think more about how they react to them. “One thing is that you should not be buying into the negative aspects,” he says.
An example of using office politics in a positive way might involve someone who has an idea they want to pitch, he says. “They would then hunt out people who they feel have a particular level of influence for positive feedback, knowing that if these people come on board with the idea then everyone else will.”
Natalie Khoury, a business coach with Rise Up Coaching, works with a number of clients around office politics. “I try to change their perspective on the situation,” she says. “Politics doesn’t have to be about playing games or backstabbing, it should be about building relationships and knowing who can help you make your job easier.”
Whether you view office politics as negative or positive, you need to be able to navigate around them. Here are five golden rules that will help.
It’s easy to fall into office gossip because we feel that it’s something that bonds us with our colleagues. But it’s also the easiest way to get into trouble – especially if you know what you’re saying can be used against you. Just work on the premise of not saying anything that you wouldn’t send in an email to everyone in the company.
Stand up for yourself
Some people don’t want to buy into office politics but these are the people who usually end up never receiving credit for their work. If you find this happening to you then you need to pluck up the courage and speak out.
“Saying I don’t like confrontation is not a good excuse if it’s affecting your career progression,” Tselios says. “If someone is taking credit for your work, just speak up and say something like, ‘don’t forget I was involved in that project’. It’s important to try and take the emotion out of these situations.”
Take time to listen
Sometimes it is worth it just to be quiet and listen to what others are saying. This way you are staying informed without needing to be part of the gossip set.
“Take a step back and observe, especially in the initial stages of joining an organisation,” Shepherd says. “Find out what are the formal and informal styles of communication and work out where you fit in and then you can manage the politics to get what you need for your own career.”
Keep your enemies close
There are always people you may not like in an organisation but it doesn’t make sense to alienate anyone. The adage of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer is imperative when it comes to office politics. This approach will help neutralise any strategy that might affect you.
Avoid aligning yourself with particular groups
Take the time to understand the informal groups in your organisation – the real influencers aren’t always the ones in managerial positions. But don’t align yourself with any one group – maintain your integrity at all times.
Khoury advises spending time getting to know all the people in the office, including colleagues, managers, directors and receptionists. “They are all a part of your work culture and will have an impact on how much the politics affects you,” she says. “Remain positive, focus on your tasks and be a high performer. These things are what count in the end.”
And remember, Tselios says, if you refuse to have anything to do with office politics, you may end up being managed by politicking colleagues who you don’t respect.
“If your strategy is to ignore office politics and you get continually sidelined or walked over then you may end up being that person who eventually loses it and quits,” Tselios says. “Then there are more far-reaching effects for you that are not good.”
*Original Article by Gayle Bryant: http://www.smh.com.au/small-business/startup/how-to-win-at-office-politics-20140529-39654.html