There’s no doubt about this: politics is a dirty word. Nevertheless, office politics are a reality, whether you like them or not. They influence what happens with you, your team, and your projects, so being indifferent or ignorant of them isn’t the strategy you should apply.
To understand it further, let’s hear it from Harold Laswell, a political scientist. He explains that office politics can be considered as the unwritten rules that decide who gets what, how, and when, and who doesn’t, including things like a promotion, a say in a decision or a budget for a project. Generally, we despise politics because the fact that our fate relies on unwritten rules makes things seem unfair, particularly when they conflict with the stated rules in a system.
Research suggests that employees who see their workplace as more political are less productive, less engaged, and more likely to quit. Interestingly, the effective way to deal with office politics is to engage in them – playing the game smartly as opposed to complaining about it. The good thing is that not all politics is bad, and there’s a way to play it safe without doing anything wrong.
But first, let’s understand the difference between good and bad politics.
Bad politics are easy to spot. They include negative things like maneuvering, wrangling, backstabbing, sucking up, and rumor-mongering that individuals use to move up the ladder at the expense of others or the organization. Bad politics are all about self-promotion by any means that may be necessary, including being immoral, sneaky, or inflicting intentional harm to someone for personal gain.
On the other hand, good politics means working for one’s interests but at the same time not neglecting the rights of others and the legitimate interests of the organization. Good politics involve using acceptable ways to get recognition for your efforts, have your ideas or recommendations taken seriously, and influence what decisions get made and what others think. Interestingly, good politics may also include gossiping, but only about coworkers who are lazy, selfish, or untrustworthy, which causes them to impair the greater good. There’s nothing wrong with advancing your own interests, as long as it also serves a higher purpose. All successful professionals play good politics, and some common phrases for it include being street smart, well-networked, savvy, or being good at managing stakeholders and socializing ideas.
Learn How to Play Good Politics Better
If you want to advance your career, it is going to take more than just skill and hard work – you need to be politically savvy too. Your success in the workplace depends on it. Here are some tried-and-tested strategies that you can use to have the upper hand in office politics without getting your hands dirty:
1. Be good to everyone
Being nice to others will help you build supportive relationships, which will show everybody that you are a team player, especially your bosses, who are looking for this trait in future leaders. People who are sharks or bulldozers make enemies, and that’s terrible because enemies will keep sabotaging and resisting you, making your life miserable. Be nice to everyone, even those you can’t help you in any way. But, remember to be genuine and sincere because no one likes phonies.
2. Don’t be whiny
Complaining about a problem is easy, and nobody likes a whiny employee. Whenever there’s a problem, focus on solving it. Being a problem solver is good for your reputation, and helps build respect and value for you in the workplace. You can also help by suggesting how to avoid problems.
3. Be a team player
A team player is a person who helps others achieve their goals, and supports a team to achieve the overall team goal, as well. Don’t take credit for someone else’s achievements, and make others look good. This reflects well on you in the workplace and helps you advance in your career because you develop trust in the eyes of others.
4. Stay visible
Don’t stay hidden in the corners. You need others to see you as a valuable contributor, and that can only happen if you stay involved in solving crucial, highly visible problems at work. This is the age of downsizing, and many people are caught by surprise when they lose their jobs because upper management was not aware of their contribution to the organization. Only being good at your work is not enough; it is also essential to get credit for your good work and get perceived as a good worker.
5. Be a good worker, too
Polish your skills and develop competence and expertise. Don’t be late for work, and work hard to complete your full shift. You need to do good work to survive in the workplace and to gain support from people. Nobody appreciates a poor worker or a slacker. If that is the case, you will also be resented if you get a promotion before them.
6. Good manners go a long way
You will gain respect from colleagues and seniors if you display good manners. Be courteous and polite. Don’t put others down, avoid sarcasm, and try to be gracious.
7. Life others up
When you help your colleagues look successful and important in front of others who are important to them, you are doing good for yourself, too, because this way, you gain support. Give sincere compliments and credit to others. People resent you when they feel that you take credit for work that was done by them, and this creates friction.
8. Help your boss succeed
More than being a good team player, this is about being smart. Your immediate boss plays a vital role in your promotability, and in how you and your work are perceived by the upper management. Building a healthy relationship with your boss will make it more probable that he or she will help you advance in your career.
Now, here’s the tricky part. What if I don’t like my boss, you may be wondering. Well, in that case, you have to move past that. If you antagonize against your boss or declare an open war, you may not be able to succeed in office politics. Remember, they are in a more powerful position, so they must know a thing or two about playing office politics. You don’t have to become a doormat for your boss. Just nurture the relationship, and if you have to disagree with your boss in private instead of in public or in front of your boss’s superiors.
9. Be loyal
If you want your coworkers to support you, you have to support them first. Avoid backstabbing and backbiting, and show your loyalty so that you can get it in return too.
Avoiding or ignoring office politics is a professional mistake that you don’t want to make. Not only is it naïve, but it will also put you at a disadvantage. Not being politically smart will stall your career while people who are less competent than you may advance by playing it smartly. It is possible to leverage the unspoken rules to advance your personal interests and contribute to the greater good while maintaining your integrity and honor.
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