As much as most of us don’t want to believe in office politics, unfortunately they do exist in many workplaces. Politics simply come with the territory of working in most organizations.
Excessive politics however, which are less common, make the organization a toxic place to work in. If you want to know if your workplace has a toxic environment, you can check out my article on the signs and symptoms of a toxic workplace.
Now, let’s clarify what office politics are. Everybody could have a different definition of office politics, based on their past and personal experiences. But essentially, the premise behind office politics is all about the idea of using one’s relationships and connections for their own personal gain. This implies few things.
Firstly, a workplace full of politics would have a lot of side conversations happening. Second, people would be able to move ahead, not necessarily based on their quality of work, but more so based on whom they know and whom they’ve been able to develop relationships with. Third, there will be a lot of favoring happening amongst the teams. For example, a certain manager would always give preference to a certain person over others. Last but not the least, there will be a lot of drama, negativity and gossiping all over the place everyday. Overall, as most people would agree, this is what office politics entail.
So if you are someone who is struggling in an environment where office politics seem to be rampant, then I’m writing this post for you.
Here are my four key strategies on how to deal with office politics or the difficult people at work who create such politics.
Before going into full detail of these strategies, the first thing we should all understand is the underlying message behind all of them, which is, for successfully navigating any kind of office politics, you need to set yourself apart.
When you set yourself apart from others in an organization, and really stand out from the crowd, you will have opportunity and space to still continue to grow in that organization, instead of getting lost in the drama.
Demonstrate high-value, high quality work daily
A great way to stay away from drama and conflict at the office is to be a superstar at the work that you do. If you are known to be someone who delivers consistently high quality work, you will be trusted by your managers and senior managers in your job. As a result, you will be given more autonomy and independence. This means you won’t be as closely intertwined and working with those who like to stir up drama as often, as you’re not going to be at the same level as them.
By doing this, you will be physically setting yourself apart from the rest of the crowd, and in a good way.
Become the expert at your job
This ties up with demonstrating high quality work. Part of navigating office politics and making sure that you are immune to it as much as possible is to become someone who is irreplaceable in the company you work in. Ideally, this means that you specialize in a certain area in the company that is crucial to the business. For example, let’s say that you work in a large bank, and you happen to work in a specialized area such as risk management, social entrepreneurship, compliance, or supply chain management. If you really know the work that you do in your specialized area, you can become the go-to expert or advisor in the company for that specialization. Becoming the expert gives you immunity from the drama, and yet leaves opportunities for growth open for you to help you advance in your career. It will make you one of the very few key employees in the company who are truly needed there.
Engage in important conflicts but avoid the petty ones
Many people think that avoiding office politics means that you have to avoid all types of conflicts entirely. But actually, I don’t feel this is true. If you truly want to be someone who can demonstrate your value, your influence, your brand, and your level of importance in the organization, then you can’t go to work everyday covering your eyes and ears.
There are two types of conflicts – professional ones and personal ones. I say that you should engage in the professional conflicts. Professional conflicts are basically instances where there are disagreements between you and your boss or co-worker on how certain processes are being run. They are caused by differences of opinion about, for instance, whether a certain process is inefficient, would cost the company time and money, or hinder you from doing your job effectively. These are the type of conflicts that you should stand up for. You should politely disagree with senior management if they are making decisions that are limiting you in being able to successfully perform your job, and that have an overall negative impact on the organization and its customers.
For example, let’s say that you work in a retail organization, and they are discussing a potential new rule or policy that’s going to hinder you from really helping your customers in an efficient way. If that’s the case, then feel free to raise your voice and make your stance. But don’t make it sound as though it’s a complaint. You have to have a backed-up evidence-based solution on what they can do differently, and suggest that. In this way, you can politely disagree, but at the same time offer a solution as well.
These professional conflicts are way different from those petty and personal conflicts that a lot of people get into with their co-workers. You do not want to be around those drama filled employees. Stay away from them.
Stay away from the talkers but be friendly and courteous
So for example, there is Suzy, the office gossiper. Even though you know that she knows everything about everyone in the office, you don’t necessarily have to become enemies with her. You can still be friendly and courteous as long as you don’t get too close to her. Or there is Joe, the male version of the gossiper in the office, who also likes to talk a lot. You can still be friendly and polite with Joe, but just don’t get too close to him either.
The key here is that you still want to be friendly and light with all your co-workers in the office. If they decide that they want to tell you things and ask you specific types of questions to get information out of you to gossip about, just don’t give it to them. Just be very short and sweet with your conversations, and walk away.
Here is an inspiring quote that I think wraps up my message nicely.
“You’ll never influence the world by trying to be like it.”
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