There’s a common saying: “Put two people in a room and you’ll have politics.” Social stratification is a hallmark of almost all civilizations, and despite our evolution into more egalitarian societies, the public pressure to find one’s place in the hierarchy still remains strong. Arguably, the office is one place where this pressure is the strongest, given the basic nature of titles, bosses and leadership – and this pressure manifests itself in one of the most trying aspects of corporate life: office politics.
You cannot avoid office politics completely. By simply being an employee of a certain organization, you’re already part of the political landscape, regardless of whether or not you’re actively engaging in office politics. You can chose not to play or participate but you do so at your own peril. Planning on sitting it out? Here are a few tips:
1. Work where performance is more likely to be objective vs. subjective.
In some fields, you either completed your job responsibilities or you didn’t. Commissioned sales, finance positions, and other positions with well-defined job responsibilities and quantitatively measured goals are good if politics is not your forte, because if you meet the goal, you’ll be considered successful. However, if you don’t meet your goals, you may wish you did play politics – it’s in these situations that having political clout or someone that will vouch for you is valuable.
2. Make yourself valuable to someone who is great at playing office politics.
This approach could be considered playing politics: if you don’t want to go out there and actually do the lobbying for yourself, start working for someone that will do it for you. If you are a critical component of your manager’s goals and they like you, they might keep you out of the political scene by taking responsibility for you themselves. But beware of this nasty consequence – if your manager falls out of favor, so do you.
3. Don’t pursue promotions or choice assignments.
If you’re not playing politics, you can’t jockey for position against your colleagues. While we’d all like to think that companies truly promote upon merit and job performance, we know many other factors are at play. If you’re not playing politics, you’re going to be passed over the next time a promotion or juicy assignment comes along.
4. Be friendly, but not too friendly.
If staying out of politics is your wish, then you can’t be best friends with your colleagues. In fact, the best way to protect yourself is to reveal or share as little as possible about your life outside the office. Be friendly and approachable, but don’t pursue friendships that could expose any of your vulnerabilities, professional or personal. You have to be particularly careful because if this does happen, you don’t have a political leg to stand on.
5. Start or lead your own company.
If it’s your company, you can decide how things go. While you won’t be completely out of the political loop, your employees and leadership team will cater to your needs instead of you having to figure out how to influence them. This is particularly true if you have full ownership of your company and are the key decision maker.
6. Focus on performing your job well and hope for the best.
This is by far the riskiest route, but also the least stressful. You’re truly sitting out when it comes to office politics, but you’re also leaving yourself terribly exposed if things at your company take a turn for the worse. This is an acceptable approach if you’re in a secure position and at a secure company where layoffs are unlikely.
You can run, but you can’t hide. Office politics will affect you whether you chose to play or not.
Featured photo credit: Tag de Lehre 2015 / Universität Salzburg (PR) via flickr.com