The Good Person’s Guide to Office Politics

Office Love

Like a lot of people, I used to think Office Politics was only about people who played dirty with each other. They were people who would smile and be friendly while figuring out how to undermine your efforts and make you look bad. The rest of humanity did their best to stay under the radar while the mud-slinging was taking place.

With all of the nuclear fallout, it’s often difficult to not be impacted in some way.

I discovered that, like many things in our society, we tend to notice the most outrageous, obnoxious examples of something and ignore the rest.


Is It Possible That Office Politics Is Not Always Bad?

In a word: YES!

It’s important to understand that “politics,” no matter if it’s office politics, exists all the time whenever you assemble a group of people. I’m sure that’s a shocking revelation.

Let’s look at what Politics is, why it’s important to understand and how you can play it well without turning into a person people avoid. I think you’ll change your opinion of it.

In its simplest form, office politics is about building relationships in order to achieve some kind of end result. It’s how things get done and it’s done 100% of the time on all jobs. Our jobs are always dependent on our interactions with others. Also, when I say “jobs” or work, it doesn’t have to mean paid work, either. If you belong to a neighborhood association, parent-teacher organization or volunteer, all of those things have no income but there is still politics going on.

Any time you get a group of people together, a dynamic soon forms. Generally, it starts with a person seeking to influence others to do something. That isn’t a bad thing most of the time. People need to sell others on their ideas most of the time in order to get them to give their resources. Those resources can include money, time and skills.

In the workplace, we influence people to support and take action on everything from helping with a project to promotions. In other words, Office Politics is a constant. Once you start paying attention, most of the time Office Politics is taking place and when it is positive we either don’t notice it or call it something nice like “group harmony.”


What Makes This Important to You?

Office Politics happens all the time and it happens as a result of the relationships each person forms. Some people think that all they should have to do is show up, do their work and go home. They think they shouldn’t have to befriend people at work. Those people are the ones who are most damaged by office politics, because no one at work is there to support them and that is a huge problem. You can’t function like that. No one is autonomous, ever. You have to think of yourself like a cog in a watch, each cog interconnecting with others in harmony to make the watch tell time. If you aren’t “meshing” with others, you create problems for them and you.

Sooner or later, you will feel like you’re working in a hostile work environment. It’s almost a primitive reaction that when a person doesn’t fit in a group, the group wants the outlier to either integrate or leave. It may seem like people are then playing dirty office politics with you as the brunt of what is transpiring.

When I say you put your career at peril is because the situation I’m painting means that you not only won’t get vital support and information to perform your job well but people can openly want you gone. Clearly, none of that inspires a desire to promote you, no matter how skilled you are. It’s all connected, it won’t be fun and your career will crater.


What Do You Do?

Easy-peasy. You form good working relationships with people around you at work. This includes the boss and other people in management.

Many people are too intimidated by management to feel like they can form a relationship with them. If this is you, you need to snap out of it. Management didn’t instantly show up as management. They are regular people like you who simply have a different job as you. They most likely had to put in the time and demonstrate some capability so they would get promoted. To be “awe-struck” by management does nothing for you, your career or the other person.

The reason why forming good work relationships is easy is that you come in contact with a number of people routinely to get your work done. You may be so focused on your work that you ignore the few extra minutes it takes to connect at a personal level.

If you’re like a lot of introverts, getting personal may have its challenges. The easiest way to start developing a relationship with a coworker is to show interest in them by asking questions. Start with the work they do and progress to interests they have outside of work. A vital part thing of getting to know the other person is to learn what is important to them professionally. (Like this thought? Tweet it!)


Build Trust

When you can understand where a person’s priorities are, you’re better able to support them. When you offer support to another person, it can be a gesture that will solidify your relationship and trust in you.

Trust is a funny thing. For the most part, we trust each other but only up to a point. From there, our actions dictate if we endow the relationship with more or less trust. When our actions demonstrate that we have the other person’s interest in mind, the level of trust goes up. On that basis, the Office Politics is formed.

We support and promote people we trust. People we trust are positioned to influence our decisions and actions. When we don’t penetrate the superficial nature of simply working at someone’s side, we don’t allow trust and understanding to form. You have to dig deeper and then show the other person you understand what’s important to them.


Positive vs. Negative or Dirty

Everything I’ve outlined is true no matter if the politics is positive or negative. What makes Office Politics negative is when actions and decisions are made at other’s expense. Positive Office Politics happens when it is done for the benefit of the business and in support of others.

This means that even if some people are building trust and support of one another, the influence that is transpiring may be to advance one person’s objectives while destroying another person’s in the process. It doesn’t have to end up this way, but people who are jealous or competitive only see one possible outcome and that is to push back others as a means of advancing. I personally like to think that people who act like this will have karma visited upon them.

I hope by this point you have discovered what I did: Office Politics is all around us and you can either play it well or be crushed by it. The fun thing to recognize is that it’s all about the relationships you form, and who doesn’t need another person in their corner?

What’s your understanding of Office Politics? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Image: Flickr

About Dorothy

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran is the Introvert Whisperer, Career & Leadership, speaker and author.
  • Trinidad Congdon

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