Some may cringe on hearing the phrase ‘office politics’ while others feel a rush of excitement, ready for the game. Typically, office politics is often considered as a negative force, synonymous with hostility, bias, and toxicity. Indeed, many have experienced negative incidents like say, a coworker taking credit for their work for a better performance score, or cozying up to a senior for a raise, or engaging in harmful gossip or harassment. But office politics can be a positive force too, governed by notions of volunteering assistance, showcasing achievements, and forging a professional brand. Indeed, workplace or office/organizational politics is simply the use of power, authority, and connections or networking to influence and achieve desired outcomes that benefit people’s careers AND the organization.

A classic example highlighting this difference could be, a manager who pits employees against each other to secure his/her own position within the organization. Compare this to a manager who fosters healthy competition or gamification within his team, buffeted by authentic interpersonal relationships. In the first case, the game of politics is sure to create a hostile, toxic, and harmful work environment, with the aim of excluding rather than including, whereas in the second example the end goal could serve the organization through outcomes such as innovative ideas, faster turnaround time, and a healthy team spirit.

Making organizational politics work for you

Positive organizational politics can motivate efficiency among workers, provide a means to develop meaningful interpersonal connections, and offer visibility to those with the ambition and skills to advance their careers. Here is how to get office politics to work for you:

  • Advocate for your work. Now, more than ever, simply showing up and doing the work isn’t enough to get recognized. A certain degree of self-promotion goes a long way in boosting an employee’s journey through the ranks. It helps one demonstrate competence among peers, draw a senior’s focus onto your achievements, and build confidence within teams on different strengths and skills.
  • Invest in relationships. We live in a highly networked world where success relies on a lot more than excelling at one’s job. It hinges on visibility, connections, and interpersonal skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and negotiation. According to Niven Postma, a leadership, culture, and strategy facilitator, it pays to take time to invest in office relationships to reach new heights.
  • Find your own style of engagement. In her best-selling book, The Secret Handshake, author Kathleen Kelley Reardon, explains four different styles of being ‘political’ ranging from being disengaged purists and rough street fighters to collaborative team players and skilled maneuverers. Finding your own style will help you to assess the political climate in your office and see whether the atmosphere aligns with your personal goals and supports the organizational vision, too.

The fact is, no man is an island. Learning to navigate the nuances of the workplace – or increasing our office politics intelligence – can be useful in forging fruitful career journeys. Let us know if any of these tips helped you at the workplace.

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