Office Politics: You Can’t Win If You Don’t Play!

“The person who says ‘I’m not political’ is in great danger…. Only the fittest will survive, and the fittest will be the ones who understand their office’s politics.”

~ Jean Hollands ~

Sabrina is an introvert who was intimidated by office politics. She tried to avoid them completely, but the result was that she felt like she was losing. She was right. Office politics is a game, and you can’t win if you don’t play!

Whether you work for an international corporation, government agency, small business or non-profit, office politics are unavoidable.

It’s tempting to press your nose to the grindstone and avoid getting involved. “My work speaks for itself,” you console yourself. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. If you choose to remain on the sideline, you may miss out on opportunities awarded to those who are in the game and are playing to win at office politics.

Be proactive in facing the politics in your workplace so you can dictate change for your professional benefit. Plum projects, career advancement and job security will be difficult to make happen if you stay on the sideline and remain a spectator.

Here are six suggestions to help you “get into the game”:

1. Know your culture, how things get done and what defines success.
Stay intune with how your organization is run, who are the most influential people, how your division is run, what is the defined culture, how the company measures success, and what style of management is demonstrated by its leaders. That way, you can better equip yourself with the skills to navigate within the work politics that are being permeated through the company.

2. Play the political game being played.
Even though you may not like the political game being played, it’s important to stay intune with it and not shy away from it. Often, the game being played isn’t the oneyou want or think should be played, but it’s necessary to play it because that’s how others are doing it and you’ll be left behind if you don’t stepup and be proactive.

3. Know when to fight and when to remain quiet.
You can’t always go to battle with all of the politics that exist inside your organization. Be selective when choosing which ones to engage in and which ones to sit out. When you do decide to play the political game, make sure you stay steadfast and strong so you can create the results you want.

4. Help others so they help you.
Get your peers, superiors and members of your work group to recognize you are doing things to help them.  It’s a subtle way of suggesting “I’ve done something for you and you can do something for me” without actually saying that. You are building a “bank account” that you can write checks against at a later time.  Look for opportunities to do things for others that benefit them and show them that you have helped them so they can help you at a later time. Then, don’t hesitate to take advantage of career-enhancing opportunities to leverage the tokens you have built up.

5. Learn from the people who work the politics the best.
There are people in the organization who know how to play the political game the best. They work it for their advantage. Often, they have a likeable personality, are great communicators and relationship builders. Learn from them. Also, take note of those who fail at office politics and avoid making the same mistakes.

6. Find a mentor who knows the political landscape.
There will always be someone else who knows how to play the political game better than you. Get them on your side. They will help you navigate the politics and use them to your benefit. Seek out a mentor or someone who knows the inside politics so he or she can teach you deal with problems and opportunities.

Remember that everyone must play the office politics game—or risk getting left behind. As Sabrina learned, even introverts need to learn how to deal with office politics.

If you need help to developing a plan to win at office politics, Joel’s career advancement coaching the customized action plan you need to succeed. Sign up today!

Talkback: Do you play to win or sit on the sidelines and avoid getting involved in office politics? What advice do you have for those who want to win at political games in the office?

Change Your Mindset:
Office Politics Isn’t a Dirty Word

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“When we win on an issue we call it leadership. When we lose, we call it politics. Practicing politics simply means increasing your options for effective results.”

~ John Eldred ~

When my client, Miles, heard the phrase “office politics,” it brought up negative associations (backstabbing, kissing up, gossip, who you know gets you to advance). One way to embrace and capitalize on office politics is to get rid of the actual words “office” and “politics” so you won’t feel so charged by these words. Instead think of it as “company culture” or “building relationships” or “how work is done.” When you have a better and more positive perspective, you’ll be able to embrace what is actually happening and leverage it to your benefit.

Once Miles changed his mindset, he was able to use these eight tips to harness the power office polit… er, “company culture, and you can do the the same:

1. Persuade others to your opinion.
Nobody exists in an environment where everybody agrees. You will work on projects and assignments in which many different approaches will be used by a variety of people. It’s important to understand where everyone is coming from and their different perspective. At the same time, you want to work on getting others to buy-in to your perspective. You can do this by providing factual information backed with logic. Also, strive to build a reputation that creates immediate respect. This will help you get the things accomplished you need to get done.

2. Don’t intimidate superiors. Try to avoid going over your superior’s head.
Most bosses feel a need to establish and maintain their authority. Often, based on their title and that they are a superior, they feel they can leverage and take advantage of their power and authority. It’s important for you to not intimidate them or go over their head because they will feel the threat of your actions and thus could undermine your career.

3. Make your boss look good.
Watch out for your tendency to avoid making your boss look good. Constantly look for opportunities in which you can help your boss shine. Making your boss look bad or saying something negative about him or her will come back and bite you.

4. Cultivate a positive, accurate and likable image.
The image you project can directly impact how well others trust you, like you and want to work with you. If you project a negative and unlikable image, it makes it easy for people to judge and question you.

5. Communicate accurate information.
If you constantly communicate accurate information, people will be less suspicious and less inclined to question your integrity. When the work politics start to get out of hand, others will rely on you because of the established honest and respectful image you have projected.

6. Be aligned to many groups – not just one.
It’s easy to be aligned to one specific group in your company. You either get drawn or exposed to a few people in one group and latch on to them. However, aligning yourself to many groups will help you when the influence of one group gets diminished or removed. You will want to rely on other groups and create a coalition to champion your ideas and projects.

7. Create allies who like you, support you and will go to bat for you.
Having a strong and wide network of allies is vital when the work politics start to disrupt and damage things around you. You’ll see how beneficial it is to have allies who can help mitigate negative situations.

8. If all else fails, move on.
After exhausting all your resources, talents and abilities in working the political system inside the company and getting nowhere, it might be time to move on. Sometimes the politics are so bad that you need to remove yourself from the toxic environment and make a fresh start in a new company.

If you need help navigating office politics to get ahead at work, Joel’s career advancement coaching could give you the competitive advantage you need. Sign up today!

Talkback: Have you ever gotten tripped up by office politics? What happened?

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6 Strategies for Introverts to Master Office Politics

“When psychologists have looked at who have been the most creative people over time in a wide variety of fields, almost all the people they looked at had serious streaks of introversion.”

~ Susan Cain ~

It seems to Gary that offices are constructed and organized to favor the extrovert.  As an introvert, he finds open office spaces draining. And meetings with rapid give and take showcase extrovert’s social skills, but frustrate him as he takes time to think.

Gary determined to build on his own strengths in the office.  While outgoing people gain energy from being around others, Gary knows he gains energy from solitude and ideas.  Gary values the introverts in his office because they can focus easier and produce more.

Here is Gary’s list of six ways introverts can shine in the world of office politics.

1. Connect with Ideas.  Instead of joining others as they talk about sports, movies or people, Gary starts a conversation about ideas.  He finds common ground with other people when he focuses on thinking topics, not social events.

2. Understand Yourself. Gary recognizes his need for quiet and regeneration.  He accept that in the wide range of personalities, he works best without distractions.

A study discussed in the Harvard Business Review showed introverts responded better to problem solving when the background noise level was lower.  Extroverts performed better with louder noises.

When both you and your boss understand that you will be more productive when you have quiet and solitude to focus, you will benefit. Recognize that others may find synergy in large group discussion.

3. Be Comfortable Being You.  Gary learned his best work practices.  Then he determined to speak up. When necessary, he requests that quiet office—or time in an unused conference room.  Often he suggest meetings hold a few key players instead of multitudes.

Gary got his boss to try “Brainwriting” instead of brainstorming in sessions.  Here each person writes an idea on a piece of paper and passes it to the person next to them.  Once a paper has four to five ideas, the group stops to discuss them.

The quiet and time gives thinkers a better chance to respond. “It’s really helped me add value to the group,” Gary says.  “And even the vocal members like it.  They get to shine when we discuss it.”

Sometimes Gary gets an agenda ahead of time and plans out his thoughts and ideas.

4. Develop Relationships Your Way.  Socializing sometimes seems like a waste of time, but Gary recognizes that we all need relationships.  He schedules 30-45 minutes each day to visit other people.  He just stops by and say hi. “That small talk builds bridges,” he says.

What extroverts call “networking” or “selling yourself,” Gary renames. “Consider it ‘having a conversation’ or getting to know someone and letting them get to know you,” Gary says. “Choose your environment.  I like one-on-one or small groups.”

5. Be fully present for 10 minutes.  When you are with other people, totally focus on them and what’s important to them for a full 10 minutes. “I find I can focus for that 10 minutes,” Gary says. “Then I feel free to move on.

“When you use your strength of focusing and direct it toward others, you make them feel valuable and important.  This builds relationships and trust.”

6. Be Confident in Your Strengths.  Gary learned to value the great strengths he brought to the office.  Studies show that the introvert rises to the top in team building as others value their focus and productivity.  Many of the great creative people have had a more private personality.

Less outgoing people make great leaders.  They are more willing to listen to others ideas.  I think I use other’s strengths and let them run with an assignment,” Gary says. “Introverts are less likely to feel they must put their stamp on the project.”

Work places perform best with a blend of personalities.  Each kind brings their own strengths to the mix. “As you come to trust your strengths and be comfortable seeking ways that allow you to be the most productive, you can thrive,” Gary says. “Then office politics are no longer a struggle for the introvert.”

Trying to figure out how to shine at your office?  Contact Joel for a personalized assessment of your strengths and a blueprint on how to move up.

Talkback: Introvert?  What is your best coping skill? Extrovert?  How do you connect with introverts?

Office Politics for Introverts

Sticky Notes

“From the backstabbing co-worker to the meddling sister-in-law, you are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. . . Take control and choose to focus on what is important.”

~ Anais Nin ~

Mary Ann is caught in a downward spiral. She manages a department for a mid-sized manufacturing company and the atmosphere at work has gotten so negative lately that she hates going to work—at a job she used to love. She knows it’s time to confront the office politics. However, as an introvert she would rather avoid any conflict or confrontation necessary to resolve these issues.

Office politics leads to negative behavior. Left unchecked, this can have dangerous consequences. According to Gordon Davidson, writing in the Kamloops Daily News, “Workplace politics is a broad term for many events at work such as passive-aggressive sabotage, gossip, turf wars, scapegoating, power struggles, sibling rivalries, office romances, favoritism, dysfunctional decision making: all kinds of things that cause stress, burnout and eventually depression,” says Davidson. “It’s one of the leading causes for disability claims, absenteeism and family distress.”

Exactly what Mary Ann has been experiencing. She could just shrug it off or blame it on a bad economy or bad weather. Instead she decides it’s up to her to turn things around. She embarks on a mission to figure out what’s happening and why. This is a difficult step for her and most introverts handling office politics. If you’re experiencing a similar syndrome, you may want to follow these three simple steps:

• Isolate trouble spots
• Take it public
• Accentuate the positive

1. Isolate trouble spots. Mary Ann began to observe her environment more closely so she could see where the negative sentiments were coming from. If you’re in a similar situation, ask yourself: Is top management modeling this negative vibe? Are people only focusing on what hasn’t been done, instead of appreciating what has? Is the negative sentiment coming from a single source or multiple sources? Mary Ann determined that hers was a departmental issue, based on demands of a fast-growing business, plus the volume and pace of work.

2. Take it public. Mary Ann’s next move was to bring the problem out in the open. She first discussed what she was experiencing with her boss. If trouble is brewing, management needs to be aware and know that you’re working on the problem. Next, call an all-hands meeting. Share your observations and ask people to express their feelings. Whatever is bringing people down, whether it’s a disagreement between two team members or a mini-rebellion against work overload, a frank discussion of the situation is the first step toward resolving it.

3. Accentuate the positive. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Your team may not experience an overnight attitude adjustment, but you can. Every person you meet with, from one-on-ones to team meetings, find out what’s going well. Focus on that. Every time you share about the company or your situation with others, focus on the positive first. Notice what the team and individuals are doing well and talk it up. Most importantly, take five minutes a day and write down all the things that you personally are doing well, all the areas that feel positive to you. When you begin to feel positive, you’ll act positive and the feeling will spread.

Mary Ann’s department didn’t change overnight and yours won’t either. The negative attitudes brought on by office politics can spread faster than the common cold. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you, and everyone else, will begin to feel better.

If office politics is creating a bad environment in your workplace, Joel has some suggestions for you. Contact him and start solving your problem today. 

Talkback: What’s your office politics story? Share your problems and solutions here. If your an introvert how have you dealt with difficult office politics at work?

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