Office politics are no different than any other politics. They are a generalized set of (mostly unwritten) rules that govern how we interact with each other. You may be thinking, “Nice definition, Ron, but office politics are what gets me in trouble, keeps me from advancing in my career, and keeps me from making a decent wage.” How you view the politics in your office will go a long way toward making you more likable, increase your chances for promotion, and help you at salary review time.
Office politics aren’t about competency but likability and the ability to grant favors. Less competent, but likable people get further in their careers than highly skilled jerks. Big revelation, huh? But that’s the nature of office politics. Should you be able to combine “likable” with “competent” — you would have a deadly combination. But lets start with the most obvious office politician, your boss.
Manage your boss
Bosses got to be bosses because of one reason: they know how to get things done in the most politically expedient way. Like it or not, they know whose boots to kiss and who will kiss theirs. They know who has the ability to grant favors to their department and they are sure to be beholden to that person. Having the ability to grant favors is the creme de la creme in office politics.
Let’s face it, bosses don’t do any work. They don’t work on the manufacturing line, they don’t (usually) work on the sales floor, they don’t drive the routes, cook the food, make the deliveries, design the clothing, write the software code, build the widgets, or take orders from behind the sales desk. The work they perform is getting other people to accomplish these tasks under their supervision and politics comes into play in virtually every situation. They have to allocate resources in the form of people, money, and equipment in order to deliver the results called for by their boss, and office politics comes into play at every stage of the game.
So how do you manage your boss?
Make her look highly competent and polished to her bosses. She is constantly worried about how her department or division is perceived. The reason: when you get to her position, you are actually in LESS control of your career than ever before. She has a boatload of people doing different things all up and down the chain of command under her that she, in reality, has no ability to control. It’s scary to think that some little mundane situation that happened in a plant located 500 miles away could result in her dismissal, but it happens all the time.
What steps can you take to manage your boss?
First insure that she knows you are there to make her look good. When she knows that you’re on her side, she will trust you and with trust comes confidence. After confidence comes bigger projects and higher salaries. You are making a political move in your favor by doing so. She loves to look good to her bosses and if you’re helping her do just that, you are more likely to be considered for promotion. She won’t keep you in her department forever if you’re likable, competent, and are able to show the higher ups that she was a fantastic trainer. Those higher in the organization, when they hear the praise you heap on your boss, think, “I wish he worked for me.”
Second, understand that every decision she makes is a political decision. Office politics come into play at every stage of the game. She has to manage so many different personalities, different views, and different goals set by her boss that a political solution is usually the best one to make. It may not make sense to you, but in her eyes, knowing the personalities, who will resist what decision for what reason, she HAS to make a political decision.
Sometimes, it stinks. You may be left in the cold. But that’s how office politics work sometimes. Your boss decided that, under these certain circumstances, it was in her best political interest to give you the shaft. If you’re ever in a different position, she hopes you’ll understand, but she knows she may have to face those consequences later. Right now, it was worth it.
Manage your co-workers
Yes, you have to manage your co-workers. Let’s examine a few types of co-workers for fun.
Tim the time waster. Tim will drive you crazy with his stories, his forwarded emails, and his constant talking. When Tim shows up at your door, wanting to talk, look up and say, “I’m in the middle of preparing for a presentation and I only have 5 minutes. Can we get together at about 4:45?” Check your calendar when you do this. No one wants to “get together” at 4:45. Tim’s hair is getting curly just thinking about getting off work and beating the traffic. After a few tries, Tim will move on.
Bill the bully. Bill forces his way on virtually everything. The key to dealing with him is to let him win on things that don’t matter, remind him that he’s already won, and then firmly get a concession on what was important to you. Always know his hot buttons, . . .and your own. If you have to meet with Bill in his office (this is sneaky), have him paged to the receptionist area just as you are supposed to start your meeting. When he wanders back, shaking his head, be sitting in his chair. “I’ve admired your chair for quite some time, do you mind if I try it out while we’re talking?” This takes a lot of guts and may backfire if he demands you get up. If you find yourself in that situation, do not sit down. Sitting puts you on his level. Touch his desk while you talk. It communicates that you aren’t afraid of him. If you have to have a meeting in your office, get some chairs that sink very low and still have the sitter’s knees up a little high. This puts Bill in a vulnerable position (I don’t recommend using these techniques except in extreme circumstances).
Wilma the workaholic. Wilma is a machine. You want to align yourself with her. She gets her work done on time and under budget. How do you align yourself with her? Ask. Just simply ask your boss if you can work with her on a project or if you can spend some time trying to understand her work habits so you can replicate them. If she is the powerhouse she appears to be, chances are good your boss will WANT you to copy her methods.
Christie the complainer. Wow, can she ever drag you down. Every time she leaves a room it seems brighter, but when she enters, the doom and gloom seem to follow. She complains about the boss, the products, the customers, the people in payables, the jerks in accounting, the overpaid executives, the Republicans, the Democrats, those wacky Libertarians, the weather, everything. Avoid this person like the plague. If you are forced into a situation where you have to be around her, politely tell her that you’ve been instructed, as part of your job, to record any complaints that other employees have. Then when she figures out that you’re joking, tell her that you try not to complain about anything unless you can personally change it. Then quickly change the subject when she starts again to something she loves. Does she adore her new grandchild? What about her trip to Cancun? Get her talking about things she likes and she will soon be talking about what a good listener you are. Others in the office will think you have the patience of Job.
All joking aside. to succeed in the office political game, you will have to become the friendliest, the most competent, the one who knows when to interject humor, the one who puts people at ease. Becoming these things is not easy, but to succeed in office politics, you have to change who you are and overlook the shortcomings of others. At the same time, you have to make them understand that you are on the same team and that you want to see them succeed.
When people realize your intentions are for their own good, they will trust you. When you’ve earned enough trust (and it takes time), people will elevate your status in their own mind so that they expect great things from you. They will also expect some political favors now and then, so be prepared.
Don’t let politics in the office get you down. They exist in every office on the face of the earth. Some are worse than others, but if you remember these tips, you’ll be better prepared to take expedient actions to tilt the world in your favor…hopefully.