When I started researching to write this article, I initially wanted to write about merging business & politics, merging the case that business people could seamlessly get into politics and make an impact - positively (I might add). But on turning to my search engine, it turned out that business politics is also a synonym for office politics. Being as I get quizzed on this on a regular basis, I steered ship and put off the business & politics article to a future post.
Office politics is influencing people within an organisation through the use of power and social networking to achieve changes that benefit you, your self-interest with little or no regard to the effects on the organisation. Sometimes it can get very scheming, manipulative, crafty and in some cases even machiavellian.
In this concise note, I will outline how to navigate office politics and build a professional career. À mon avis (as the French would say), I think the best way of dealing with politics in the workplace is to stay beneath the fray.
i. Network Network Network: You should make out time during your working break periods to speak to colleagues in your work environment. This should not be limited to your department. A good way to do this is to eat lunch with someone different everyday.
Please understand that networking doesn’t mean meeting someone new everyday; instead it means becoming genuinely interested in other people rather than just playing politics to become popular. This is singlehandedly the most important rule in navigating office politics. Because by becoming genuinely interested in other people, they in turn will become genuinely interested in you. This way, you inadvertently build allies who will help you grow and protect your interest, alongside the organisation’s.
ii. Respect your Colleagues & Subordinates: Showing respect to your managers is a given, so I wouldn’t go into that too much here. Where I feel a lot of folks miss the trick is when they look down on their colleagues or mistreat their subordinates in the name of politics. Your subordinates are there to be mentored. You should never feel threatened to show them a thing or two and coach them on how to build a successful career. By doing this, you build their loyalty.
Always show genuine respect to your colleagues and everyone around you - especially those beneath you in the corporate ladder. Remember that the way you treat people whom you are higher than in the corporate ladder - is the true test of your character. If you can manage/supervise them by showing them respect and courtesy, the same way you give your colleagues that; you will teach them how to also manage others when they get up to your level. Reprimand your subordinates in private and praise them in public.
iii. Be Authentic: Be genuine. Build integrity. Build a reputation of honesty - this will make you look almost stupid in the short-run, but in the long-run, you’ll come to be the most trusted individual your colleagues know. “And this above all: To thine own self be true, & it must follow as night the day, that thou canst then not be false to any man.” Hamlet, Shakespeare. When you become an authentic person, a genuine person, you stay beneath the games, the trickery and all the noise. You also build a more intimate and genuine relationship with your co-workers which results in you having a fulfilled life.
As long as you are true to yourself, you will be courageous and even invincible. But it all starts from something as little as integrity. Avoid gossip and rumour mongering. It soils your character. Don’t worry too much about your reputation, you have very little (if any) control over that. You have FULL control of your character. Build that by practicing integrity!
iv. Be Courageous: There is a fine line between insecurity and egotistic. Find the thin confidence line and stick to it. Don't seek for other people’s approval, this only gives them more room to manipulate you. Believe in yourself! Know & trust who you are. Do your job diligently and be respectful.
Courage does not mean bullying, belittling, threatening and manipulating others, NO! That in actuality is weakness. Courage is giving credit to your colleagues publicly when the need arises; not being afraid to ask your colleagues and even subordinates for help when you genuinely need it (for the interest and growth of the organisation); admitting emphatically when you’re wrong and apologising and moving on; keeping the confidence of your colleagues even after they’ve wronged you. Yes! all of these attributes are courageous and will help you build an authentic and courageous personality on your way to building your professional career. But make no mistake, being courageous is hard! as your colleagues, managers and even subordinates will test your character - but if you stand the tests you will earn their trust and respect - not because you are manipulative, but because you have character.
v. Be Simple: Keep a simple life. Don’t overcomplicate things. If someone does something that you felt wronged you - why not call them one on one and tell them how their behaviour made you feel, if they are good people, they will apologise or explain. Also try to genuinely always see things from the other person's perspective. This helps you get a balanced holistic view of the situation.
The single and most important reason you should stay beneath the fray of politics is that if you are scheming and manipulative in the office, you would take it home with you, and use it to influence your family and close friends. As you obviously spend more time at work than with your loved ones.
Always learn to let go of things quickly. Remember that a lot of the people who play these games in the office do not know any better or are looking for the quickest and easiest way to the top. So let things go easily. From a self-fish standpoint, it helps you build character. It also gives you a healthier life.
In conclusion, I hope you weren't expecting a bag full of trickeries and games to help you make it up the corporate ladder fast? This article outlines some snippets of my research and experience in building a genuine professional career that will stand the test of time. There are lots of books on manipulating and scheming your way to the top, but these books fall short as they make us treat our fellow humans as pawns on a chessboard, even though we wouldn’t want to be treated in the same manner.
Of course scheming your way to the top is easy, that’s why most people do it, but if you build character and build your career, you will have a much more fulfilled life. You will walk into the office always with a smile and have malice and hostility towards no one. This in turn will give you healthier, happier and yes richer life!