How to Steer Clear of Office Politics
November 13 by Shane Magee | Communication
Going to work in the morning can sometimes feel like walking on to the set of a soap opera, with intrigues, rivalries – it can be a nightmare to navigate through it all and actually get some work done! However these tips can considerably smooth your path and make the office environment a much more pleasant place to be in.
1. Avoid office gossip.
Participation in gossip is usually the fastest entry point into office politics – usually the person who is letting you in on the latest news is consciously or subconsciously trying to align you with their point of view, or negatively dispose you towards their ‘enemies’. Gossip is very often a two-edged sword: ‘whoever gossips to you will someday gossip about you’, so the Spanish proverb goes. Gossip can also unfairly poison your opinions of your colleagues and influence your judgement if you have to take decisions which affect them.
All of the above sounds like common sense; the chances are many of us realise the destructiveness of gossip and yet continue to indulge in it at the same time. Taking the decision to avoid gossip often requires overcoming your fear about standing out from the crowd. However, it might be possible to take that stand tactfully: one good trick is to deflect the conversation with a question about the gossiper’s own life – they will invariably relish the chance to talk about themselves!
2. Place long-term harmony above short-term gain
If you happen to disagree with a colleague over the best approach to an issue, try and take your own ego out of it and stand in their shoes for a moment. Office politics often tends to focus on the person rather than the idea, so try and detach one from the other in evaluating the competing approaches. In many cases, there may be little or no difference in the effectiveness of the two rival approaches, and it may be best to just go along with the other idea to keep harmony. A 90% perfect solution done in unison can often be better then the 100% perfect solution which was only achieved at the cost of civil war.
Whatever happens, don’t let a situation build up past the point of no return. It is very easy to hold a grudge against someone as a result of something that didn’t go your way; however these attitudes have a way of hardening into something permanent, to the stage where you feel totally unable to approach that person. Try to keep the lines of communication open to everyone, however slight.
3. Respect others’ territory
Often people regard their office competencies as their ‘territory’ and will jealously guard them against all-comers. They might feel they have absolute expertise in the area, and are seriously put out if people even question them about what they were doing. Often the best approach in this case is just to let them at it, and keep your own tendency to feel ‘you know how to do everyone’s job better than they do’ in check.
But what if you genuinely do need to make a suggestion? One thing which has worked for me in the past is to draw the person concerned into a conversation on their area of expertise, and genuinely listen. Often this ‘territory’ attitude comes from a feeling of insecurity that no-one values their work, and listening in this way creates a space of trust where they feel you value their opinion, and helps to lower their barriers. It also helps if you aren’t defensive about your own territory, and judge any suggestion on its merits rather than by who said it.
4. Don’t get sucked into the promotion whirlpool
Of course, one of the main causes of office politics is because we are hoping to advance within the company, leading to the temptation to keep an eye on potential rivals for promotion. What we don’t realise is that all this worrying about others is essentially a lack of faith in ourselves, and that all the problems mentioned in the first three points – gossiping, territory etc. – are just ‘shortcuts’ we take because we are afraid we won’t go places on our performance alone. But conversely, not indulging in these behaviours demonstrates strength, courage, tact and a feeling for managing people – qualities which many companies would kill for! You shouldn’t be afraid about standing out from the crowd for the right reasons – it could pay you back more handsomely than you think.