We all experience politics in life but we are never really trained to handle it well. Sometimes it happens outside of our knowledge and thus we do not worry about it, but it cannot be denied that we may still get impacted by it. Knowing that you are being played around with is not a great feeling but then awareness is necessary to stop the forces acting against you.
I have been lucky enough that I worked in environments where there is little or no politics but as an author and coach on the topic of employee engagement and leadership development, I have seen a lot of people in my network getting impacted by it. The purpose of this article is not to train you on how to destroy or belittle others, the goal is to make you an aware and professionally smart being. I feel that one should be ready for any situation at workplace and ignorance is not an option. People who understand politics may be a little miserable but those who fail to read the situation in advance lose badly. Conquering office politics takes a right balance of speed, patience and stakeholder management.
1. Study the patterns and find out for yourself
First, you should notice if you are being played around with. Do not be a cynical employee but also don’t be a foolish one. If you feel that your efforts are not rewarded in the way they should be, then you should try to find out the reasons behind it. Do not be a complainer, just be silently curious. Are you the one on your team who gets overloaded with work? Do you get the projects assigned to you which other members refuse to take up? Are you always the first one in the line of fire, if something goes wrong? Do you always hear about the cost-cutting measures? Are you given more developmental feedback than any support? Do the top leaders get to know about your work? Do others steal credit for what belongs to you? Only you can decide if you are part of some trapped set-up or not.
2. Never believe anyone
In office situations, I always recommend my readers and seminar participants to find out for themselves. Never trust anyone blindly at the workplace, even if it is your best friend. This principle applies to those situations where someone tries to influence your mind about another individual whom you do not directly work with. Your best friend’s enemy can be your best friend too. Professional relationships are not linear. Moreover, enemy is too strong a word, what I mean is that you can be in the good books of people who matter, even if someone you believe is not in their good books or vice versa.
3. Be smart with your written and oral communication
Communication is the tool you can use for you or against yourself when it comes to office politics. Take courses to improve your communication skills, both written and oral. Smart professionals know the appropriate timing, content and medium of communication. There are certain things which you should never document in writing while others must be documented in a right way for future use. Develop the smartness on how to involve the key people in your communication.
4. Learn to be secretive
Learn to keep secrets. If you cannot keep your own secrets then do not expect your most trusted colleagues to keep yours. There are always certain professional secrets that you must learn to keep. Your colleagues will respect you if they know you are not a big-mouth. Nothing kills your reputation at workplace more than the label of being a person who gossips and cannot keep secrets. Leaders and managers do not trust such folks when it comes to handing key assignments.
5. Have a godfather
Office politics impacts those who are the weakest in any system. People always check your godfather before messing with you. Try to network with leaders and make sure you add some value to their professional lives. A lot of unwanted problems will get solved just because some people respect your godfather a lot.
6. Get endorsement from decision makers or owners
Identify three to five of the most powerful people in your professional ecosystem and try to solve their problems. Leaders always need people who are proactive problem solvers. These decision makers decide your professional fate and even your bosses report to them. They do not have to try for things or seek approvals, their word in itself carries enough weight to make things happen. These are the people who do not get to hear no or get any push-backs. Your duty is to ensure that they know you and have a positive perception about you. You can impress them by doing great work or solving their problems. Set up coffee meetings with them and seek their mentorship. Top leaders are usually great givers and wonderful mentors.
7. Do your best work
There are no free lunches. All the above-mentioned tactics may take you to a comfortable position but you reach the peak only because of your knowledge and execution. Be the expert and the go-to person on the topic or project you lead. Expertise coupled with basic smartness can propel you in the right direction in your professional journey.
8. Be fearless but also be grateful:
Be fearless and focus on doing great work. Do not be over-reactive or extremely paranoid. I believe that number of good people in our teams always outnumber the cunning ones, but we always focus more on negative personalities. Be grateful for the kind, helpful and positive colleagues in your team.
Your goal is not to change petty politics, it is to move beyond it and be politics-proof. Be so powerful that nobody can destroy your peace of mind. Work to develop skills and do high-quality work for your employers, complaining does not help.