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Office Politics- Do’s and Don’t’s

May 6, 2010

The phrase “office politics” has a nasty connotation. In the world of Dilbert cartoons, only the yes-men, liars and sadists play the game and get ahead. In the real world, the people who get ahead understand relationships. A more useful definition of office politics might be from “interpersonal dynamics within a workplace. Office politics involves the complex network of power and status that exists within any group of people.”

Set aside the negative aspects and focus on the interpersonal dynamics. Who are the decision makers in your organization? What characteristics do they look for in their teams? How are teams formed? Understanding the answers to these questions in your office is the key to successfully playing the office politics game.

When you look at office politics in terms of the relationships, then navigating them begins on your first day of work. Your primary goal is not only to understand your job duties, but also to absorb the company culture.  First day do’s and don’t’s:

DO: Remember that its ok to ask questions, but trust your company’s training process. People feel needed when you come to them for help, but it can be overwhelming to be peppered with dozens of questions. Feel free to ask when something is unclear, but don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Keep a list of the questions you have, if they aren’t covered in your training be sure to ask someone.

DON’T: Compare all the processes you learn to your old company. “Thats not how we did at my old job” is never a welcome statement from a new employee.

DO: Be careful who you socialize with and how. You want to pay attention to the grapevine, but never contribute to it. If someone latches on to you immediately, ask yourself why. You don’t want to be the office pariah’s new best friend. Always, ALWAYS, be careful if you are invited out for drinks after work. One for drunken faux pas can follow you for years.

DO: Take the initiative to meet new people. Smile and introduce yourself. Be friendly without taking up too much of someone’s time.

The politics game continues long after your first day. Once you become part of the organization and understand its culture, you still have to present yourself well to your team mates. Team situations are a prime place for power plays and the other negative behavior that is often thought of as office politics. Some do’s and Don’t’s of working in a team:

DO:  Get buy-in. If you can bring others over to your way of thinking, you can minimize conflict. Seeking the input and agreement from others shores up your position on the issue. You can create a sense of team ownership of the project when everyone buys into it.

DON’T: Squelch discussion, even if it gets heated. Its better to be uncomfortable and allow a heated debate than to have team members feel as if their opinions weren’t heard. When a team member feels as if he was not heard, he won’t fully cooperate on the project. Encourage everyone to air their thoughts good or bad on the project. When everyone’s thoughts have been aired, get buy-in and move forward.

Even in the best of situations there will be conflict. Putting your best foot forward is difficult in times of conflict. Do’s and Don’t’s in office conflict:

DO: Watch how you react to situations.  Its your decision to decide how you behave. Reacting badly on a regular basis, will cause people to see you in a negative light. if you react badly to criticism for example, you run the risk of being thought of as someone who can’t take constructive feedback. You will lose out on plum assignments if you don’t learn to control your negative reactions to criticism.

DO: Observe your patterns. Is there someone who regularly annoys you? How are you contributing to that? Next time someone tries your patience catch yourself before you react. Try taking the an  approach that is the opposite of your first response.

DO: Stay focused on business when in a conflict. The aim of all discussions should be on accomplishing the goal. Avoid allowing the discussion to turn personal.

DON’T : Feel victimized and angry.  “Its just business,” can sound callous and uncaring, but remember that it isn’t personal. Shifting your focus away from the personal can help you feel less victimized.

When you focus on the relationships within the organization, office politics becomes easier to navigate. Focus on the goals of the business and how key players achieve those goals. Learn how to build working relationships with those decision makers and you will succeed at the game of office politics.

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