Over the years, several of my friends or former co-workers have found themselves in a similar situation – they love their jobs but can’t stomach the office politics. It had gotten so bad for some that they left their jobs, which is tough to do in a poor economy, only to find out that the grass isn’t always greener.
For many years I sympathized, but didn’t fully get it.
You see, I LOVED office politics. I was one of the “chosen ones” and rode that train successfully for a decade. It wasn’t until I was shocked back to reality, taking on a new position in a new office, that I experienced what many of my friends had years before….the dark side. Now years later armed with the reality that office politics are a way of life, I know how to make the most of the situation.
Here are my 5 favorites:
1. Know the stakeholders
2. Don’t fuel the rumor mill
3. Awareness – The walls have eyes & ears
4. Switzerland is not the answer
5. Fuel a positive reputation
Know the Stakeholders
Take note of the decision makers and the influencers high and low in the organization. Don’t just assume it’s at the senior executive level; sometimes the most significant person in your office to impress can be an executive assistant or someone within a smaller department. The second you enter a new company, take a few weeks to sit back and observe. Not only will it help you to avoid trouble as the “new guy,” but it also gives you the chance to discover who make things happen, who share your values, and who might not be trustworthy.
Don’t Fuel the Rumor Mill
It doesn’t matter how high up you are in your company, if you are known for being a good listener, people will often come visit you at your desk, or in your office, to bend your ear. Especially during times of drama it is best to discourage these sorts of actions, even if you aren’t talking about the latest gossip. Perception is reality, and people will perceive that you are. Have the conversations over the phone or meet for coffee off site before heading into work. The same goes for making sure you aren’t the “information source” for a top boss. It can be flattering when someone high up asks you for information or insight into the department, especially when you have insightful nuggets to provide. Steer clear of sharing gossip or placing blame, and instead share the good while offering up problem solving tactics.
The Walls have Eyes and Ears…Even after Hours
Be mindful of where you air your dirty laundry or excitement over a new company development that should have been kept internal. In the age of social media, the line between personal and professional is definitely greying. A study by Millennial Branding done earlier this year, states that Gen-Ys have an average of 16 co-workers as “friends”. If this is your situation, it’s time to start treating your Facebook page with a filter.
Switzerland is not the Answer
By remaining neutral, you may find yourself oblivious in key situations. Command a savvy strategy toward the political landscape to take advantage of the good side of office politics. Be aware of the right opportunities to self promote yourself.
Fuel a Positive Reputation
This is even more important during tough times. Make it hard for anyone to say negative things about you, and show that you are conscious of situations/mood shifts as they happen. Whether this is staying late, helping a teammate practice his or her presentation, or giving guidance to someone outside your immediate responsibility. Take note of what the higher ups put value on and do those things. Make your actions count.
Most importantly, realize that at the end of the day, this is your job. And part of your job is to navigate the office waters, putting you in the best position for success. There will always be competition and the person that is your friend may not be tomorrow, but by using these tips you should always come out on top.
Please share your favorites or if you have successfully used any of the above!
Katie Marston is President and Executive Director of DYME Branding , a personal brand development company focusing on professional athletes, celebrities, and executives. Follow her on Twitter at @ktmarston