Office politics is a reality of the working world. Not every employee will get along. Sometimes, hiring mistakes mean having to work with individuals who aren’t a cultural fit for the team or the company. Ambition and ego will clash as professionals look to advance their careers, often at the expense of their co-workers.
For individuals who would rather do without the office politics, witnessing its effects on a daily basis can be an emotional drain. For others who want to get ahead without climbing over or stepping on their peers, playing the political game can be a necessary evil.
Whatever your goals and ambitions may be, there are some things you should keep in mind when dealing with office politics. Here are some tips on navigating your workplace political landscape.
Your baseline is respect
Don’t be that person. You know them. They’re the ones who will go from one circle to the next, always talking down their peers and starting drama for the sake of their own personal gain. People quickly wise up to those antics. The reputation you gain from that type of behavior will never go away.
Your primary goal in any office political situation is to respect your peers. Depending on the toxicity level of your workplace, they may not return that respect, but that’s ok. Treating your co-workers with respect regardless of your issues with them is the best way to keep your conscience (and your reputation!) clean.
Focus on what you can control
Office politics tends to result in a lot of drama. People make power grabs, take credit where it isn’t deserved, and even steal projects from under each other’s nose, all for the sake of their own advancement. Whether you’re looking to play the political game for the sake of career progression or you want to keep your head down and do your job, make sure you’re spending your energy in the right way.
Place your primary focus on the things you can control. This includes your own work ethic and effort, the results of your projects, the ideas you come up with, and everything in between. Your professional advancement doesn’t have to involve playing politics with your co-workers. It can be purely internal to the projects you work on and the efforts you make to become a better professional.
Excel for the right reasons
The worst way to approach office politics and career advancement is to do it for the sake of bragging and being recognized. Instead, excel for a much more personal reason: happiness. Your job is what you make it, and part of being satisfied with the work you do is taking risks, learning something new, and going beyond what is asked of you in your projects.
If you do these things for the sake of how others perceive you, you’re doing them for the wrong reason. Being driven by others’ opinions is a quick way to run yourself into the ground, either when they criticize your work or simply do not notice your accomplishments. Finding your motivation in the opinions of others only makes you work towards goals that won’t make you passionate for your job.
Rather than motivating yourself to excel for recognition, excel for your own satisfaction. Find the things that you want to learn and the skills you want to develop. Find what excites you to get to work every day. It’s a great habit to form in any work environment, but especially in a highly competitive, highly political office.
Highlight your accomplishments
Don’t be afraid to talk yourself up. Whether it’s in private with your manager or in public with all your peers around, part of being effective in the political game is knowing how to market your accomplishments without sounding arrogant. Unfortunately, this part of office politics is not avoidable. You have to be able to properly convey your contributions to your team in order to be recognized for your value. This is especially true in highly competitive fields like sales.
Be assertive and confident in the results you generate. Give credit where credit is due when you collaborate with a co-worker. Bring people to your side by asking for contributions on how you can go a step further with your work. Always look for feedback, and when you receive it, act on it to the best of your ability.
Then, return to the person who made suggestions and tell them the things you did in response. You’ll gain a reputation as a professional who is willing and eager to adapt based on the feedback of their peers. This is a strong signal of a professional who is ready for the hardships and trials of a leadership role.
Avoid alliances - cooperate instead
A big part of office politics is that groups of people come together to form alliances. The nice thing about alliances is that you have a group of like-minded coworkers that you can rely on for the sake of your own career advancement and protection. The bad thing about them is that they put you at odds with other groups in your office. And a single change in the makeup of your office or your team can completely throw your already-fragile office alliance out of whack.
Instead, strive to make every co-worker your ally. Build relationships regardless of any alliances within your company. Learn names, make new friends, and try to go to lunch with a new co-worker every week. Brainstorm through tough problems by asking for help from others. Give your own input and advice when someone looks like they’re struggling on a project. Doing all this will allow you to become a person of value across the board rather than in a small political block.
Watch your back, the smart way
When it comes to office politics, watching your back often means knowing who you can trust. But if you’ve made friends and developed a reputation as a professional of integrity and value, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about trust. And if you treat all your fellow co-workers with respect, you won’t need to worry much about watching your back in the first place.
Once again, focus on the things you can control. Do your own job to the best of your ability, without slacking off or being lazy. When you make a mistake, own up to it and correct it immediately. When you get any form of formal feedback, be it positive or negative, get it in writing. You never know when you might need to refer back to something that was said or done in the past.
And most of all, make sure that you do all of this for your own satisfaction rather than for the accolades. You should be your own biggest critic, and you should always strive to progress in your career out of your own motivations rather than those of others.
By covering all these bases you will have properly navigated your office political landscape.