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The term “office politics” makes many people cringe because it often carries with it a negative connotation. And while it may bring up unpleasant work memories for you, office politics is really just about learning how to manage differences at work. They are the strategies people use to gain advantage or support in the workplace.
A study of 400 U.S. workers from staffing firm Robert Half International says that nearly 60 percent of workers believe that involvement in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to get ahead. There is at least some degree of politics at play in virtually every organization, Robert Half International’s Chairman and CEO Max Messmer reports.Cheryl Conner
We all would like to imagine that we can move forward in our careers based on our own merit alone. But the reality is, those who rise quickly up the corporate ladder are usually the people who know how to play the office politics game. By turning a blind eye to all office politics, you needlessly suffer and miss out on legitimate opportunities to further your own career.
Many people fear office politics and see them as something they must avoid but the truth is that in order to succeed you must learn how to navigate office politics. Why are office politics inevitable and how can you begin to make them work to your benefit? This blog post will attempt to answer those questions for you.
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The Power of Positive Office Politics
Many people make the mistake of going into a new job situation assuming they can simply ignore office politics. They don’t want to deal with them and they believe it’s a waste of time so they simply choose to ignore it.
Organizations are inherently political places but one thing that is important to understand is that this a not necessarily a negative thing. Many people think that participating in office politics means that they will become someone who doesn’t care about others and has no regard for how their behavior could hurt the company. While this does certainly happen, it is possible to engage is positive office politics.
To engage in positive office politics you have to recognize the realities of who is powerful within your organization and then build mutually beneficial relationships with those people. When you strategically network in this way you bolster your own career, promote the interests of your group, and build a stronger team culture.
The 3 Types of Networks You Need at Work
Regardless of what organization you are in, there will always be some people who have more power than others. According to this article in the Harvard Business Review, there are three types of networks you need to cultivate in order to succeed in the workplace.
- Operational Network
The first kind of network you need is your operational network. This is the people within your circle of influence in the company and whose work you depend on to be able to complete your day-to-day activities. You may not manage them yourself but your work is largely dependent upon them.
This group can also include people who depend on you and your group in order to complete their work. Although you aren’t personally reliant on them, their demands on your time and attention have an impact on how you spend your days.
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Anyway ... we'll continue from where we left off above.
- Developmental Network
Your developmental network is composed of the people who you can turn to for support or advice. They can advise you on future career plans and help you grow personally and professionally. This will often look like a mentor or friend who you can trust.
- Strategic Network
The third and final network you need is called your strategic network and this is the network most professionals fail to develop. Your strategic network should include the people who can help you both define and succeed in your
future career. The strategic network is about preparing and planning for your future.
Your development and operational networks will usually develop naturally over the course of your career. Your operational network will usually include people you work and interact with regularly. Your developmental network will be comprised of people who you will naturally want to turn to for advice and guidance. Often these networks will form without you even thinking of them as networks because they form so organically.
Your strategic network is the one you need to thoughtfully cultivate. However, it’s important to remember that strategic networks must be mutually beneficial to everyone involved. You should not try to build relationships with people solely out of your own self-interest; you need to give as much as you are hoping to receive.
4 Ways to Make Office Politics Work for You
No one enjoys dealing with office politics but like regular politics, they are usually unavoidable. By attempting to avoid participating in office politics you will not protect yourself and your career.
The key to successfully navigating office politics is to stop burying your head in the sand and hoping they will go away. You must begin learning how to thrive in your company’s political environment. You succeed by playing thoughtfully and knowing when you should and shouldn’t get involved. Here are four tips for navigating office politics:
- Figure out what is going on in your organization
When you are just starting a new job you have to begin by learning the ropes. Your organization will be full of rivalries and alliances and you should be able to discern those fairly quickly by watching and listening.
This isn’t about choosing “sides” because that is counterproductive. It’s about learning the rules and developing a strategy so you don’t find yourself unintentionally caught up in controversy.
- Build strong alliances
One of the best things you can do is begin building alliances within your organization so you will have a broad range of support in as many camps as possible. When you demonstrate to people that they can depend on you, you will almost always come out on top.
- Think win-win
The reason why many people cringe when they hear the term “office politics” is because it can imply that there is always a winner and a loser. But office politics doesn’t have to be an all or nothing game and it works best when you think win-win. Instead of trying to “beat” someone else, look for ways to make everyone feel like they won.
- Stick to your principles
And finally, you must always stick to your principles. Don’t just react to a situation out of fear or envy. You don’t have to contradict your values and beliefs to get ahead at work.
Office politics may feel out of control at times and hard to manage but there is one thing you always have control over and that’s the role you play in them. Over time you will learn what works best in your company’s culture and what doesn’t. Model your behavior after others who are successful and don’t stoop to petty gossip or spreading rumors.
Whether it’s positive or negative, office politics will continue to happen and people who refuse to participate will often find themselves powerless to affect real change. By taking yourself out of office politics you run the risk of not having a say in what is going on around you. Learn how to participate in a positive way without compromising your own values and beliefs in the process.