Office politics are a reality in every organization. People compete for power and influence over what gets done, how it gets done, and who gets to (or has to) do it.
An organization’s culture is shaped by these official and unofficial rules of the game, which can range from little quirks and annoyances to seriously challenging to downright toxic.
You might see these as bothersome and in the way of “real work.” But office politics are a reality that you have to deal with.
Understanding office politics is part of the situational awareness you need as a leader. And actively participating is the best way to advance your cause.
But you don’t have to play dirty. In fact, I think it’s best to play it straight. This can actually make you a better professional and help you advance your career, which is probably going to involve working at some other organization in the future.
Here are five tips on how to do that.
1. Do great work
Your first obligation to your organization and to yourself is to do your job well. The frustration of office politics is when the merit of the work is diminished somehow in the larger scheme of things. But that is not an excuse to cut corners.
When things are brought out into the light, your work should shine. If you have done your absolute best, then it’s going to hold up well. And it’s harder for politics to work against you if your work is impeccable.
More importantly, doing great work helps you to validate your own efforts when things get discouraging. And learning from that effort is what helps you grow as a professional.
2. Always be professional
How you conduct yourself in the performance of your work and interactions with others matters. Just like high quality work always works to your advantage, so does professional conduct.
If you are reliable, courteous, and diligent in your duties, you will earn more respect. You might think this can be challenging when you are surrounded by bad behavior associated with some office politics. But it can actually be a great little haven to retreat to.
Because if you are aiming to be professional, you are aiming to keep your cool in all situations. You are aiming at detaching from the fray of the bad side effects of office politics.
This can really clear up your perspective and help you to see what is really going on.
More importantly, this helps you strengthen your own self-respect and self-control, which will position you for greater success in your career, here or anyplace else that you work in the future.
3. Build relationships with everyone
To really know how your organization works, you need to know as many people as possible.
A great way to do this is to actively build relationships. Engage with people as much as possible outside of the normal work structures so that you can learn more about each other.
That’s why hallway conversations, workplace social gatherings, and cross-departmental committees are so powerful.
But you can do more. You can invite people to lunch or coffee. You can stop by to see them instead of sending an email. You can ask them what they think about things other than the task at hand.
You can share more about your own thoughts and opinions as well. Building relationship is reciprocal.
As you strengthen relationships across your workplace, you will find it easier to get things done, to gather information, and to influence actions.
More importantly, you will learn a lot about how to build good relationships, which will serve you well throughout your entire career.
Growing your power and influence
You may not like a lot of things about office politics, but they are a reality. Maybe you are lucky to work at a place where they are not so bad. Perhaps you are not so fortunate and your workplace culture is very challenging.
In either case, you could benefit from some fundamental approaches that strengthen your stance and help you to grow as a professional.
If you do great work, you are less likely to struggle with at least some aspects of office politics. Maybe this isn’t a great path to navigating your way up, but it is a great foundation to protect yourself and to grow your career, even if that growth is going to mean moving on to a new organization.
Conducting yourself professionally is another thing you can work to your advantage. Strengthening your self-control can really lessen the emotional toll of politics while helping you to see more clearly what is really going on. A healthy level of detachment works to your advantage. So does the image you portray when you are cool, calm, and collected under fire.
Finally, building relationships with as many people as possible helps you to get a much deeper understanding of how your organization works. You can really start to understand the perspectives of others, gain the advantage of their insights, and smooth the way for future interactions, while simultaneously building your relationship building skills.
Playing politics can be messy and dirty. But playing it straight can work to your advantage too. Focusing on the quality of your work, your professionalism, and your relationships is always a good strategy for the long term.