Dealing with office politics can be a nightmare. To thrive at work you need to know how to do more than just survive office politics - you know how to navigate office politics.
The great news is .it's not as difficult (or as schemey) as you might think.
Most of the women that I work with are intimidated at the thought of dealing with office politics. While it is a common obstacle, it doesn't have to be. The truth is, once you know how to navigate office politics, you will be navigating office politics with ease. All you need are simple strategies to handle workplace politics in a powerful, but authentic way, which is exactly what I'm covering in this post.
Strategy 1: Know you can't avoid office politics
A lot of us have a vision of a corporate meritocracy, where the person who is the best at their job and does the best work, is the person who is elevated into leadership. Let's face it, if the world was fair that is exactly how it would work.
The hard truth though is the world isn't always fair, and navigating office politics is a necessary component of your career success strategy.
While you could proclaim that you're not going to play the office politics, you would just be surrendering your power and your influence to someone else... and they might not be using it for good. Plus, that's also a one-way ticket away from the career fast track, which you most likely want to get on.
Strategy 2: Rethink office politics
Corporate politics are going to be whatever they're made out to be.
Maybe they get a bad rep because the people that typical play workplace politics are the same people that would throw their own mother under a bus in order to get ahead. But there are more ways to deal with office politics than to get down into the mud with people like that.
When used effectively, and for good, workplace politics are going to be an extremely powerful force in your career success and career advancement trajectory.
Ultimately, office politics are simply a game. While you might not like the idea of office politics, chances are you like yourself a good game. Just like any game, there is a way to play office politics in a way that is full of positivity on integrity. The faster that you can make the game into one that you actually want to play, and that everyone can win at, the better it is for everyone.
Strategy 3: Know what you're trying to achieve
There's that career vision again...
Knowing what you're actually setting out to achieve in terms of a project initiative in terms of your career is going to help you navigate office politics with ease.
Why is that? It tells you exactly who you need to deal with, and exactly what you're trying to actually do. This helps you make sure you're investing your energy and effort into the right things.
Sure, you could play the game just to play the game - there are a lot of people that actually do that. But if you're like most of my clients, you don't want to get ahead simply to get ahead. You have outcomes that you're trying to achieve, both for yourself and for your company.
Having clarity in terms of what you're trying to do, and what you are trying to achieve, is going to be one of your biggest assets when you are navigating office politics. That purpose and shared vision will help you align people to acheive whatever you're trying to achieve.
Strategy 4: Know exactly who you need to know
There's actually two prongs to this strategy.
First, based on what you're trying to achieve, you need to identify who actually has influence in making it happen. It could be figuring out who has the authority to actually make the decision, or it can be identifying who has influence with the decision maker.
For example, if you're trying to kick off a new initiative, who has the power to say yes, who needs to say yes to that initiative in order for it to get the go-ahead?
Second is where we get into the dirty office politics, and that is knowing whose bad side you do not want to be on...
You know the one, the person with outsized influence over the right people at work. If you're lucky, this is someone that you have a great relationship with. Even having a neutral relationship puts you into a good position to navigate (and hopefully escape) the bad office politics.
Strategy 5: Focus on creating win-win scenarios
Navigating office politics is a million times easier when the person that you're working with knows exactly what is in it for them.
To be clear, I'm not talking about what's in it for the company, I'm talking about them personally.
It is not my place, nor is it yours, to judge someone for looking out for number one at work. Especially since the reality is that this is human nature; self-preservation has been entrenched by evolution, while work drama is very distinct from say, being chased by wooly mammoths, our threat detectors don't differentiate intelligently.
When you're asking something of someone, then knowing exactly what's in it for them, and how this is actually going to serve them and make them look good, is going to help get them onto your side really, really quickly. In turn, it can help you very rapidly expand your circle of influence as well as your network of advocates at work.
At the end of the day, most people aren't going to disagree or object to something that is in their best interest, unless they themselves are absolutely terrible at dealing with office politics.
Strategy 6: Stay out of the mud
You knew this one was coming, and it would be impossible to discuss workplace politics without diving into this one.
There are different ways to playing office politics, and there is a very good chance that if you are like most people, you have one of those people at your office who doesn't play office politics in a nice way.
In fact, they might be one of the people that deals with office politics by getting down, dirty and personal in it.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about bad office politics? These are not the office politics that are not going to serve you or your career. What are bad workplace politics? Simple, it's the ones that include gossiping about people that you work with, passing judgment on others, creating divisions, and other generally toxic behavior.
Make it a point to avoid these unproductive office politics as though your life depended on it, because you know what? You can really mess up your career and your professional reputation by getting into the mud with these ones.
Strategy 7: Play the game that feels good
I know a lot of people have a negative sentiment towards office politics, and that they feel like there's not a way to do it in a way that actually suits them. They feel like they're going to have to exchange on their integrity, their honesty or their good intentions in order to effectively participate in workplace politics.
But that is simply not true.
When you're a person who lifts other people up, who does play the game with integrity, you are going to stand out. There's a lot of good and positive ways that you can deal with office politics and there is a lot of positive ways for you to play the game. The more that you can play the game that feels authentic to you and feels good for you, the more that you're going to be able to win in that game.
Strategy 8: Know the toxic signs
There can be a very fine line between office politics and toxic work environment; know the difference between the two is extraordinarily important.
When office politics are vicious, malicious, or when they're personal, they can very quickly transform into something that is incredibly toxic and corrosive.
If you are in a toxic workplace, and the workplace politics are toxic, even if you play right game, you will not be able to shift the dynamic unless you are in a very powerful position with a lot of influence.
Identifying what's toxic versus what is typical office politics though can be something that's very challenging. If you are struggling to tell the difference between workplace toxicity and typical office politics, this is a great opportunity for you to lean on someone like a mentor or a career coach, which leads me to the final strategy...
Strategy 9: Get support
When you're in the game, you are going to have blind spots. It can be extremely challenging when you are integrated into workplace politics to navigate the situation with clarity, and to find the best strategies that to deploy.
Plus, let's face it, office politics is something that takes years and years to learn how to navigate effectively, and there's a lot of science and psychology that really does go into navigating office politics efficiently.
The pay off for investing into navigating office politics though is huge. The people that reach the highest levels of the corporate ladder are generally the people that have figured out how to play the game the best. Hopefully they're also awesome people and amazing leaders, but they also have a lot of office politics savvy in order to actually ascend the different levels and get into the positions which they're in.
If you're really serious and you really want to advance in your career, especially if you want to accelerate your career, focus on getting support from mentors and coaches to accelerate your career.
Workplace politics can't be avoided, the best way to approach them is to choose to navigate politics in a way that is authentic, maintains your integrity, and leverages your network of advocates to shorten your learning curve.
Have you ever had to deal with one of the people that did have outsize influence? Let me know in the comments down below.