Every office has a political landscape. Some office politics are positive and contribute to productivity, like pre-syndicating ideas and forming alliances to accomplish tasks. Yet, negative politics that undermine relationships and stagnate productivity are what many of us associate with the term. Understanding and managing the political landscape of your workplace is an important part of personal career management.
Seeing and understanding the often-invisible nature of office politics was hard enough when we were all together in the office. With shifting working patterns from remote to hybrid or in-person, it can be even harder to gauge. Regardless of how you’re working, it is essential to maintain a positive perception and presence with your colleagues. An August vacation is an excellent time to pause, step back and consider how the politics of your office has evolved and how you can thrive in that environment.
Politics is born from the behaviors of individuals. You’ll want to identify and align yourself with those focused on moving the business forward while avoiding the bad actors. As a reference point, here are three types of bad actors.
1) The Land Grabber
This type leads with flattery. They’re likely to join a workgroup late, flatter those who have already taken ownership of parts of a project and do little work themselves. When this type begins to see the positive impact of the work, they tend to swoop in and claim the credit.
2) The Backroom Negotiator
On the surface, this type is collaborative, all the while elevating their importance to upper-level managers. They tend to promote themselves by marginalizing the work of others to make themselves appear indispensable.
3) The Water Cooler Gossip
With the promise of juicy gossip, this is an individual who rarely keeps confidences and whose behavior undermines productivity. Those who play into this become trapped in the rumor web, bringing their credibility and professionalism into question.
To better understand the political landscape at work, create some visual aids.
Map the landscape
In one column, identify those in the three categories above. Include an example of why you believe they exhibit that political style. In another column, make a list of those who practice positive politics. Identify people who mentor, are respected by others, and those who quietly and humbly move the business forward. This map will help you with the following steps.
Influence is the root of politics. Understanding how influence flows is essential for understanding the political landscape. Now that you’ve drawn a political map look for interpersonal connectivity and plug in the individuals from your map.
Questions to consider are:
- Who are the people in authority?
- Who influences these people?
- Why, is the influence based on commonality, background, respect, or something else?
- Who champions and mentors others?
- Who is moving the organization ahead?
- Who are in the in-groups?
- Who are in the out-groups?
With your map in hand, you can position yourself properly. Positioning yourself well is a combination of building relationships and communication skills. Actively managing these two elements directly correlates with how others perceive you, determining where you’ll fit within the political landscape. Let’s begin with relationship building.
1) Strengthen your network
A strong network goes beyond your function or department. Work on building a solid cross-functional network. This network will give you more options and a better understanding of what’s happening within your organization. Focus your networking efforts on the people you’ve identified in the positive column on your political map.
2) Find a mentor
Having a mentor in any aspect of your life is a great idea. Mentors are thought partners, career strategists and trusted colleagues that help you stay connected and motivated. As a neutral party, a mentor can help you understand the bigger organizational picture and where you can insert yourself to benefit your company and career.
This is a tricky one, but especially in a hybrid setting, you want to stay top of mind with the people who are moving the organization ahead without being self-aggrandizing. It’s up to you to vocalize your accomplishments with both clarity and humility. You can do this by elevating the success of the project and your collaborators. Build campaigning into your communication practices.
In a hybrid setting, establish communication routines so your team and supervisors know what you’re working on and any issues you face. Choose how you communicate- through email, phone, Slack, Zoom channels based on the tone you want to set and the message conveyed. If possible, show up in person whenever you can. Set clear expectations at the outset of each project using benchmarks, KPI’s and milestones to avoid any questions about your productivity. These practices send a positive message to those moving the business forward and get you noticed as a positive political force.
5) Be accountable
Be accountable for your work and own any mistakes you make early. Owning your mistakes shows integrity and humility and correlates directly to how others perceive you.
6) Offer solutions
With so many unknowns about how successful companies will be in this new way of working, it’s up to everyone to be part of the improvement process. If you see something to be improved, say something. So what you’re saying doesn’t sound like a criticism, be prepared with a possible solution. Offer these ideas to the people you’ve identified as practicing positive politics.
7) Don’t join the rumor mill
When you hear a rumor, consider both its source and credibility. The best way to stay above the negative political fray is not to add editorial comments and always remain professional. Once associated with the rumor mill, it is difficult to change that perception.
8) Be nice
Just be nice. Avoid bad-mouthing others. If you have a problem, talk to the person individually. Celebrate successes, recognize good work publicly and appreciate your colleagues in individual conversations. You’ll be noticed by those who matter.
We work because we want to be part of something bigger, make money, be recognized and feel good about our contribution.
Good office politics will help you achieve all of the above. Bad office politics won’t.
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You can also check out Forbes.com/CFO blog where I write about communicating with and motivating teams.