It is clear that at all levels of one’s career, there will be office politics to deal with. In fact it is true that as one grows the politics increases and the stakes become higher.
Many people in successful careers view office politics as pervasive and a complete waste of time, this likely comes from the view that getting ahead in the institution they work in is all about delivery of the results desired. The truth is starkly different because decisions are made based on many other factors not just performance. The question to consider then becomes how does one win at office politics?
The majority of advice on this subject mainly boils down to stay out of office politics. Choosing to not play is not going to protect you or help you. So how do we progress to finding ways to play and win?
Too much of how our careers grow and indeed the success we experience is highly dependent on office politics therefore, we must learn to reframe the perspective of office politics in the positive. It does not have to be cast in the negative.
Let’s begin by a good understanding of what office politics is. Office politics according to the Collins Dictionary is the ways that power is shared in an organisation or workplace, and the ways that it is affected by the personal relationships between people who work there.
Simply put, it has to do with the actions and behaviours that come from the competition for power and status in an institution. People like to work with people that they like. We as humans are all generally averse to negative relationships as they drain our energy and suck out our drive much like how a vampire would suck blood.
Having established that we do need to get the hang of office politics let us now focus on steps that one might take to help navigate the dicey world of office politics;
May I humbly suggest the following tactics that in my view may make a difference;
1. Establish what your goals are. What is your mission or purpose? Is it to grow your career? If so, how so? Is it to maintain your status quo? What do you stand for? How do you navigate the plays and yet remain true to yourself?
2. Watch and observe keenly. This will help you understand the lay of the land, in the sense of who is aligned to who, what interests they have etc.
3. Listen actively and carefully. There is a pretty good reason why we have two ears and one mouth, it is the strongest hint from nature that we truly were made to listen more than we spoke. The other beauty of listening more than you speak is that it helps to learn from others and avoid saying the wrong things.
4. Figure out your circle of influence. Who has the power? Who uses their power? How do they use it? How well aligned are you? For what reasons? These questions will help you understand whom you need to influence and how best you can achieve that goal.
5. Build relationships across broad alliances. Avoid aligning yourself with one camp and endeavour to have meaningful relationships with all based on respect and not hypocritical shows based on flattery.
6. Focus on the facts and what needs to be done in every situation. This will help you neutralise negatively and remain as objective as you can whilst not antagonising others.
7. Be aware of your own behaviour and be in control of it. Assume that everything you say will not be held in confidence, therefore be measured about how and what you communicate. Find ways to model your own behaviour based on successful behaviour that you have seen in others.
8. Always seek first to understand. In any situation that you find yourself in or in the middle of, seek to understand what it is about before you seek to be understood. This helps one to get to the bottom of the issue plus it also buys tonnes of good will.
There are no hard and fast rules for sure but the need to take part is as clear as day unless of course we are happy with the consequences as stated by Plato (see image of statue) in days gone, “one of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”.
Ms Terry Ramadhani is a senior manager in the Human Resources Department, East Africa Aga Khan University