Politics. The word is everywhere. In the newspapers, on television, at dinner tables and in your mind. So why would the workplace be spared? Office politics is no more an uncommon or sporadically occurring phenomenon. It exists, whether you like it or not, in every organization, everywhere in the world. Organizational politics involves the use of several wide-ranging tactics to gain personal advantage and power at workplaces, often resulting in collateral damage to the common goal of the firm.
Gossip, manipulation, information suppression, misinformation and coercion are the many facets of workplace politics that rule the dynamics of any active firm today. However, one must not assume that office politics concern only negative interactions that threaten to destroy the promise of an organization’s positive ambience and performance. Yes, office politics can be good too, if the maneuvering is carried out for the right reasons and applying the right methods. This is often known as networking., and can reap rich rewards for individuals and groups. Even so, dealing with one’s daily dose of office politics, good or bad, can be overwhelming, not to mention thoroughly exhausting. Hence, one must be careful to understand the rapidly changing political landscape within the workplace, recognize the thin line between co-operation and competition, and play one’s cards honestly, but carefully.
Listed below are ten simple but effective ways to help you deal with the inevitable politics at your office.
10. Think before you Speak
The only way to remove yourself from the line of political mudslinging at your workplace is to exercise diplomacy in speech. You are safe at home, but at your office, you cannot risk too many slips of the tongue. Co-workers and superiors often tend to build up impressions quickly and conveniently hold on to them. The more manipulative players will be on the prowl like wily old jackals, straining to latch on to every single word out of line, placing you in the danger of being misquoted and misunderstood by everyone around. Except for extraordinary situations, it is best to keep your criticisms of co-workers and boss to yourself for one must never underestimate the power of Chinese whispers. At the same time, do not divulge intimate personal information at the office if you can help it. You never know what degree of damaging rumours may rise up from the crowd just when you might be expecting your next promotion. Diplomacy is the key.
9. Respect Your Values
Not too many workers are silent spectators to the storm of organizational politics. Most get sucked into the whirlpool sooner or later by the fear of being sidelined or, more often, the greed of gathering greater power. However, in one’s pursuit of greater power, one must not forget the priority of greater good. As a worker paid with justifiable returns, one is duty bound to adopt the vision and mission of the firm as ones own and dedicate oneself to their achievement. Never allow yourself to be swept by the wave of negative politics directed at you or others. Unwanted manipulation and coercion are dishonest, not to mention unstable methods of moving up the corporate ladder. Such interactions are destructive to a firm’s well-being and can only be countered when workers refuse to give in to such methods and stay true to their values, protecting themselves as well as their firm.
8. Agree to Disagree
Continuing onwards from point 4, many might argue that saying ‘no’ is easier said than done. A refusal might come with a hefty penalty at times, especially if it is made to someone ‘with influence’. But it pays to learn the art of saying ‘No’, We must shield ourselves from being pushed around by peers, and if that requires an unflinching refusal, so be it. However, if situation forces us to answer in the negative, we must ensure that we are courteous as far as possible, and choose our words cautiously, thereby lessening the chance of making too many enemies.
8. Understand the Hierarchy
In order to survive and thrive in a politically charged office environment, a clear understanding of the political landscape, or the interlocking hierarchies- formal as well as informal, among the people working in the organization is very essential. It helps immensely to keep track of the power circles- the most influential members, the most knowledgeable workers and attempt to identify the masters of manipulation. Be informed about the people you surround yourself with- where do they stand with respect to you? Are they competitive? Does anyone seem like a threat? Who seems to have close connections with the boss? Once you have uncovered the path along which power flows, identifying, comprehending and following the political games will be less complicated. However, make sure this precautionary measure does not take up your entire work time.
7. Be Well-Informed at All Times
It is no doubt necessary to keep abreast of the latest happenings at the office to update one’s work schedules accordingly, but in the case of office politics, keeping track of a little more detailed information about one’s colleagues can come quite handy. There is no reason to be overly inquisitive however, or poke your nose into everybody’s internal affairs, as that would cause the plan to backfire quite dubiously. But basic things like listening carefully during informal conversations, attending office gatherings and maintaining a fair amount of knowledge about the interpersonal relationships at your workplace can go a long way towards keeping you safe, as you will be able to identify more easily if you are being manipulated or deprived in any way by an individual or group. Moreover, such information will enable you to seperate fact from gossip and make correct decisions in your interactions with peers.
6. Play the Game
Contrary to what many others might advise you, the worst way to deal with office politics is to try to avoid it. One must accept that workplace politics cannot be ignored. It is only a matter of time before you come face to face with it, and the more you run away from it, the more you will be singled out and cornered. The only way to win against the menace is to play the game yourself. No, I do not mean that you too have to turn into a manipulative and cold-blooded corporate villain to overcome the ones at your office. You must stay true to your values, as point 9 already mentions. However, you must also learn to use foresight, detection and tact in your daily dealings at the workplace. If you remain gullible and meek, people will take advantage of your these gentler qualities and you might have to suffer the shock of being backstabbed by those you trusted. Therefore, one must counter negative politics with positive networking – stand up to all attempts of manipulation, build up an immaculate image, connect with the right people who will back you up in case of trouble, and make sure to be in your superior’rs good books.
4. Handle Gossip With Care
Office gossip has an integral role to play in the movement and direction of office politics. Be careful not to blindly swallow all the rumours that reach your ears. After all, its Chinese whispers you’re dealing with. Do not give or pass on any kind of information if you doubt it’s credibility. Even if you had nothing to do with the actual matter, your gossiping about it might be used against you by a jealous or offended co-worker you may have never suspected. He or she may start a new source of gossip with you as the joke or you might acquire a bad name for criticizing or pulling others down. Such distractions will no doubt overshadow your work, and give you cheap publicity for all the wrong reasons, which is the last thing you want for your boss or family to hear.
3. Be Careful With Your Behaviour
It is true that continued politicking at you office may drop you into tense and embarrassing situations, overwhelming your composure. But, you must keep your emotions within control, unless you want to face a situation ten times worse and have your reputation smeared forever. You must handle accusations, threats and sarcasm very carefully, never allowing them to make you lose your cool. Otherwise, you might just end up as the Story of the Month in the gossip circles, which might very well affect your prospects. Scheming peers might deliberately try to provoke you, to create a scene, or try to worm out unpleasant words from your mouth about your friends or superiors. In short, there will be many attempts to throw a spanner in the works – in your work, and your prospects. So work and speak with calm alertness at all times. And of course, never drink too much at office parties.
2. Connect and Communicate Effectively
If you want to ensure that neither you nor your work are pinned down by the onslaught of political mind-games and compulsions, you must develop the ability to rise above them with an agenda of your own. The only way you will be successful at turning the tables of the game is if you can communicate effectively and intelligently with everyone at the organization, right from the security guard to the CEO. For many, social communication skills are as daunting as climbing the Everest. However, keep the rules simple and you will learn quickly. First, keep good relations with everyone as far as possible. Speak politely and offer to help out. Secondly, teach yourself to be confident, with a high self-esteem. If you appear shy and nervous, you will be targeted in minutes, and end up as a victim of politics in no time at all. Speak tactfully, but confidently, work diligently and create a respectable image for yourself. This will draw genuine people closer to you and ward off cunning minds. Of course, you cannot succeed without making a few enemies, but that’s were your good connections and communication skills will come handy.
1. Build Strong Alliances
Finally, to become absolutely immune to office politics, you have to turn your connections into alliances and gain support from people who are important, and have a say in the office. That doesn’t mean you hover around anyone in power, even if the person is a sneaking swindler! Ally with people who matter, people who will be good peers, great friends and inspiring mentors, people who share your own views and values regarding the organization. Such sturdy support systems will provide a great boost to your work, protect you from all the negative aspects of dirty office politics as well as create a collective opportunity to try and transform them into positive forces for the betterment of the whole firm and it’s workforce.