Expert's Seven Ways to Succeed at Office Politics

Aug. 5, 2008
While playing office politics frequently is perceived as a negative action, it also has a very strong upside. The key to successfully navigating your way through the propaganda lies with making the system “for” you rather than against you.

Effectively strategizing and executing an office politics “action plan” can literally make your career. Do it poorly or not at all, and stagnant wages or, worse – a pink slip – may be in your future.

The very nature of office politics is strategy, which differs from office gossip in that people participating in office politics do so with the objective of gaining advantage, whereas gossip can be a purely social activity. Creating an office politics “action plan” detailing specific, proactive strategies to circumvent political landmines is a worthy exercise.

“Office politics will occur anytime there are three or more people in a conversation, which is a very common occurrence in the workplace,” notes business success and career coach John M. McKee, author of Career Wisdom - 101 Proven Strategies to Ensure Workplace Success. “It’s imperative to use these opportunities to get yourself, your point of view and your ideas into play.”

McKee offers seven methods sure to help anyone become more successful climbing at the corporate ladder amid a highly charged political climate:

1. Over-Communicate – Keep others apprised of what you are planning or currently working on. Organizations hate to be surprised and often, when they are, it creates a blueprint for failure – either for you personally or for your project. In many companies, this can mean taking meetings with people you may not like or respect, but chalk that up to life in the fast lane. If you think withholding information will allow you to surreptitiously gain professional yardage, think twice. Your concealment can be easily sabotaged.

2. Seek Out Mentors – These individuals still are the best way to get an objective handle on what's really going on in an organization as they can better see the forest through the trees. “Company insider” mentors can give you a fast understanding of the company's culture. But a mentor need not be within the organization; outside mentors can provide a new, fresh and completely unbiased perspective on both your personal style – what it is and what it “should” be – and how your company’s politics are working in general. A mentor also is a confidant with whom you can not only strategize your career, but also vent about a nasty boss and/or co-worker and otherwise get frustrations off your chest without feeding into the office political game. And, it doesn't matter if your mentor is not the same gender, as a different perspective than your own actually can be better for you in the long run.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions Ask a lot of questions to different people in different sides of the company and then shut up. When you hear the perspectives of people in departments or operations other than yours, it helps you to see the world as they see it and understand what they deem important. It may be different than what the boss has told you. Ask peers, “old timers” at all levels and superiors for their opinions. Take notes and don't interrupt; you don't need to show how smart or experienced you are.

4. Review Constantly – Seek constant feedback from others. Talk about what just took place in a meeting you just attended, what the last message from the corporate office ‘really’ said, how you did in a recent presentation, what is driving decisions and directives, etc.. This could mean after-hours socializing, but the effort can pay off greatly. Many great managers fail because they believe that what's right is what is going to succeed, which all too often is not the case.

5. Get Buy-In – It’s important to ensure that everyone who may be influenced by your programs or initiatives is aware of what’s going to happen and feels like they’ve been involved – or, at least, were able to weigh in with their opinions or recommendations. Ideally, they’ll be supportive of what you are doing. At the very least, it may reduce friction that could derail your ultimate, longer-term success. Best-case scenario is that you learn something that will ensure the success of the activity and your upward mobility, but even in the worst case where others won’t support you, you’ll have learned who’s for or against you and the program. Knowledge is power.

6. Give and Take Due Credit – Credit hogging can get old and can come back to bite you over time. Yesterday's stars often trip and fall, and are then surprised that there’s no one around to help them get back on their feet. On the other hand, going too far the other way – giving the rest of the team all the credit – could mean you don't get the respect from upper management you deserve for your ideas, work and contributions. Don’t end up watching others, who are less deserving, get promoted past you. Credit those on your team who deserve it, but don’t miss an opportunity to take credit for your work as well.

7. Remember Style Counts – How you present yourself to others – your external façade – can make a big difference in how you are perceived. While this is seemingly common sense advice, all too often we mistakenly think our presentation – our outward appearance, our use of PowerPoint, our buzzwords and jargon – will be universally accepted. It might, but sometimes those in other departments or companies have preconceived opinions about you or your “kind,” however stereotypical or politically incorrect. Also, in every situation, make an effort in advance get to know your audience and present yourself in a light that will better ensure acceptance and, therefore, a better the chance of success.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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