As long as humans work together in organizations, office politics will always be part of our lives. Office politics arises when employees tend to misuse their power to gain undue attention and popularity at the workplace. They are the activities performed by individuals to improve their status and advance their agenda – sometimes at the expense of others. These self-serving actions are informal or unofficial and could be why politics in the workplace comes with a negative connotation.
When negative office politics begin to fester in the workplace, the organization can suffer. Office politics can divide colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates, creating a tense and disruptive work environment. Additionally, it can decrease employee performance, productivity and company morale. If workplace politics are left unresolved, they are likely to increase employee turnover and damage the company’s reputation.
Here are some things you can do to help you navigate your way through tricky political waters.
Analyze The Organization Chart
Office politics often circumvent the formal organizational structure. So, sit back and observe for a while, and then map your organization’s political power and influence, rather than people’s rank or job title. To do this, ask yourself questions like, “Who are the real influencers?” “Who has authority but tends not to exercise it?” “Who is respected?” “Who champions or mentors others?” and “Who is the brains behind the business?”
Understand The Informal Networks
Once you know where power and influence lies, try to examine your colleagues’ informal interactions to gain a proper understanding of the informal networks. Understanding the informal networks helps you navigate your company’s politics and build a positive working atmosphere since you know where to set boundaries.
Build Your Network
Now that you know how existing relationships work, you can start to build your own social network. Make connections outside of your immediate team or department. Cross the boundaries and hierarchies. Don’t fear those with political power. Instead, get to know them. Be friendly with everyone, but avoid aligning yourself too closely with one group or another.
Develop Your “People Skills”
Office politics are all about interpersonal interactions. Proceed with emotional intelligence. Reflect on your emotions, what prompts them, and how you handle them. If you can learn to self-regulate, you’ll be able to think before you act. This kind of emotional intelligence helps you pick up on other people’s emotions, too, and understand what kind of approach they like or dislike.
Your first instinct may be to keep your distance from people who practice “bad” politics. In fact, the opposite can be more effective. The expression, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” often applies to office politics. Be courteous and guarded. While you should not trust them, understanding their goals can provide you with great insight into your organization’s values.
Don’t Stir The Pot
Avoid spreading rumours and unsubstantiated gossip. You can help make a workplace more positive by not “fuelling the fire” and joining negative politics. By doing so, you may help avoid additional conflict or de-escalate situations by not adding fuel to the proverbial fire.
Make it a personal objective to understand your company’s culture. Does the culture align with your values? Is it biased towards certain people? Are specific roles stereotyped to a particular gender? Is the culture conservative, innovative, hierarchical? And most importantly, will you have the opportunity to showcase your talent in this environment? Do you have the potential to thrive at this company, or are the cards stacked against you? It’s critical to pay attention to all of this. Do the best job you can. Build relationships with key stakeholders, and look out for potential landmines.
The bottom line: Accept that office politics are a reality that we all have to face, and avoiding them altogether risks not having a say in what happens. It also allows people with less experience, skill or knowledge than you to influence decisions that affect you and your team. If the office politics at your workplace have made coming to work untenable, it might be time to consider moving on.
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