Whether you are the nose-to-ground kind of worker or a social butterfly, chances are that you have experienced workplace politics in one form or another.
Across industries, workplace politics is a ubiquitous phenomenon which has implications for workers and for overall business productivity.
Workplace politics is a natural byproduct of any business environment. As businesses compete for clients, projects, and resources, employees must also compete for promotions, better salaries, prestige, recognition, and power.
In the modern workplace, sitting on the sidelines and hoping for your luck to strike simply does not cut it. However, jumping into office politics can also be messy.
This being said, you don’t need to stoop to dirty politics to succeed at work — and neither do you have to suffer in silence. According to research by Adecco, 33% of U.K. workers cited office politics as a major contributing factor to feeling unhappy at the workplace.
Here are a few strategies you can use to beat office politics:
Whether you are an experienced professional or a recent graduate, learning about your office environment is crucial. Every office’s environment goes beyond boilerplate policies, and it’s important to be well acquainted with every aspect of office culture.
The second step to familiarizing yourself involves understanding the dynamics between your colleagues.
Learn who the influencers are, which employees are the first to know about any office news, who the office troublemakers are, who is respected universally, and what the unofficial office hierarchy is. Understanding the political landscape is the first step toward bypassing office politics.
Adecco research revealed that 33% of U.K. workers dread going into work because of office politics.
Understanding the rules, roles, strategies and players at your workplace is the first step toward protecting yourself from negative office politics. The more you understand about your office, the easier it will be to work around those areas that make you unhappy.
This familiarity will allow you to not only disengage yourself from the office drama but will also help you avoid unintentionally stepping in the middle of a long-simmering rivalry or inadvertently becoming a player in someone else’s agenda.
Practice the Autonomy Strategy
Workers who deliver the most value to the company are those who deliver results. The more you prove your expertise to your management, the greater your clout will be, then leading to increased autonomy.
Establishing your expertise is the key to this strategy. You might decide to master a new technology or you might become an expert on one or more of your company’s product. Play to your strengths and ensure that no one else has the level of skill that you have in that area.
Once your authority has been established, you will have cemented your value to the company. This will automatically make others dependent on you and will insulate you from undesirable office politics and conflicts.
Your expertise will give you the power to not only reach your goals with minimum interference from others but will also allow you to explore and develop roles and responsibilities for yourself that shield you further from the disagreements of a normal office environment.
Once you have established autonomy, you might even ask management for special concessions like the ability to work and collaborate remotely using online task management tools. This has the added benefit of physically removing you from the sometimes-harsh office environment.
In some cases, your expertise will raise your level of power beyond that of your designation. Establishing yourself as an invaluable asset will make your employer extremely reluctant to let go of you and will protect you even further from office politics.
Flip the Script
Office politics don’t need to be a down and dirty game. Just like other politics, office politics are viewed by most of us as an undesirable entity, but they can also be the simple building of relations and understanding among colleagues.
Understanding your work life and your colleagues helps to improve productivity, allowing you to collaborate better with your team and be more comfortable sharing innovative ideas.
In fact, several studies show that political skills prove to be the best overall predictor of job performance regardless of your career path.
This makes sense intuitively: without cultivating effective work relations, even the hardest of workers will consistently underperform, regardless of their position or responsibilities.
And even if you do manage to perform well, you must have the interpersonal skills required for promoting and highlighting your efforts in order for your work and effort to be recognized.
A Robert Half study of 400 U.S. workers found that nearly 60% of workers believe political skill is at least somewhat necessary to getting ahead. Success in the workplace demands that you have a strong relationship with your peers, managers, and executives across departments.
Increasing your political intelligence and savviness will open doors for you. It will also make it easy for you to receive feedback on your work and resolve conflicts quickly and fairly. Furthermore, it allows you to obtain access to information and to improve any strained relationships you already have.
You tried your best, but the workplace politics monster has you in its clutches. You might be plagued with the vagaries of a volatile colleague or you might be trapped in drama created by others. Sometimes there is no way to avoid work conflicts. So what do you do now?
Adecco research found that 36% of unhappy employees consider leaving their jobs due to severe anxiety caused by workplace politics while one in ten (9%) had already taken that step.
Let’s face it: leaving our jobs is not usually the best solution to workplace drama.
Dealing with unpleasant workplace politics requires diplomacy and a certain amount of preparedness. Establishing broad alliances is important in being prepared for such situations.
Your alliances will help you make sense of the situation and provide support. Keeping a cool head is important in making sure that you don’t make a bad situation even worse.
An important tactic in the face of aggression is retreat or the creation of distance. In the workplace, the temptation to start a fight is often motivated by the belief that someone else’s fall will make them look better by comparison.
The best solution in a situation like this is to not rise to the bait. Distance yourself from the other employee emotionally while showing no sign of distress outwardly.
Pointing out that the blame does not lie with you, only validates the claims of the accuser and can cause additional distress. By rising above the petty recriminations, you neutralize the situation and solidify your image in the eyes of your other colleagues and employer.
Another tactic for dealing with office politics is to keep detailed documentation of all of your tasks, responsibilities, goals, achievements, and communications. A simple way to accomplish this is using an online task management software or a project management software like nTask.
Online tools not only allow you to organize and maintain all work-related documentation but also, if used in conjunction with the whole team, allows complete transparency.
Whether you love politics or are more of an unwilling participant, learn to use the art of political maneuvering to your advantage. Political skill is just like any other skill, and you can further your career by developing and practicing.
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