This post is from staff writer April Dykman.
Last week we talked about the whys of office politics. Why do they exist? Why do we have to play the game? Today we’ll get to the good stuff: How to run a positive campaign and how to deal with the Negative Neds and Nancys in your work life. (No offense intended if your name is Ned or Nancy — I’m sure you’re lovely.)
Running a good campaign
In part one, I touched on the importance of promoting yourself and your team, and we’ll explore that a little more, as well as other ways to engage in positive office politics, with the following best practices:
- Network up and down. Politicians go on the road to meet “the people,” and you have to do the same, but within your company. For example, I had a department head who weighed in on my evaluation, but I had no interaction with this person. Once again my favorite supervisor had the perfect solution: find a project that will get you some face-time. She helped me get in on a project in which the head of the department was involved, and I was able to make a favorable and direct impression.
- Find a mentor (or two). If you don’t already have one, make it your goal to find a mentor in the next two weeks. I had a couple of them at my last job, and they helped me navigate difficult personalities; look for solutions when I needed a sounding board; and check my e-mails for sarcasm (priceless if, like me, sarcasm comes as naturally as exhaling). Most people like to help others — just be sure to come to him or her with a problem and a few possible solutions. Your mentor isn’t there to listen to you complain or to solve all of your problems for you.
- Take initiative. Start something new, even if it’s just a fun thing for your coworkers to do together. Some of my coworkers organized yoga-at-work classes during lunch, fundraising activities, and office holiday celebrations. It doesn’t have to be something that increases revenue to show leadership and team-building skills. (Although if you can identify a way to increase revenue, by all means, go for it!)
- Overcome your fear of speaking up. Many people have good ideas, but they’re afraid of being shot down or of what might happen if the idea bombs. But participation is an important part of good office politics. It shows that you’re engaged and thinking of solutions. If you’re too scared to speak up, talk to your mentor about ways to present your ideas at the next meeting or try joining a speaking group, such as Toastmasters.
- Look for ways to look good. And not only ways to make yourself look good, but find ways to make your team, your boss, and your company look good. For example, I knew a designer who entered every design contest she could. If the company paid her entry fee, she entered something. She tried to get her coworkers to enter, too, but if one declined, she’d enter a second design into the contest. When she’d win one, it made her look good, and it made her design team and department look good, which in turn made her boss look good. And every boss wants to look good.
- Think about the best interest of the team or company. Before asserting your opinion or arguing your case, ask yourself who will benefit. Are you against change because you don’t want to take the time to learn something new, even though it’ll improve a system? Think big-picture and beyond your immediate desires. When a disagreement starting going downhill, try to get the group to refocus on the big picture.
- Be positive. This isn’t always easy. Believe me, I’ve never been accused of being Little Miss Sunshine. But the people who constantly complain and play the victim are no fun to be around. People will start avoiding you, even if what you say has some merit. One coworker and I had a routine to deal with tough days at the office: We’d meet at the picnic tables for lunch and spend the first 10 minutes or so venting, then we’d move on and discuss anything but work. Sometimes it’s cathartic to get things off your chest, but it doesn’t lead to positive solutions, so don’t dwell on it. You want a reputation as a problem-solver, not a whiner.
Unfortunately, there’s more to it than running a good campaign. You also have to live with the negative politics.
Dealing with bad office politics
It can be difficult to stay positive if you feel like you’re living in an episode of The Office, but there are ways to deal with bad politics. Here are some tactics to deal with the negative:
- Don’t participate in the telephone game. Gossip will inevitably reach your cubicle, but ask yourself if there’s any credibility to the rumors. Whether there is or there isn’t, don’t pass it on. People who enjoy gossip usually only have half the story, and taking part is a sure way to wind up with your foot in your mouth.
- Get to know the people who practice bad politics. Instead of distancing yourself from them, as I once did, get to know these people better. Try to understand their motivations and goals to work more harmoniously with them (or at least avoid being in the crossfire as much as possible). Be polite, but be careful about what you say, too, which brings us to the next point…
- Watch what you say “in confidence.” Most things said in confidence will get out, usually starting with “I’m not supposed to say anything, but…” Disclose at your own risk. I tried to be professional and polite to everyone I worked with, but there were very few coworkers I trusted. Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can trust them with your confidential information.
- Want to give someone a piece of your mind? Keep it to yourself. You might think it would feel good to “put someone in their place,” but it comes at a steep price. You’ll lose a potential ally (the target of your rage), and you’ll be viewed as unprofessional and difficult, which will affect future promotions.
- When all else fails, keep documentation. Sometimes you’ll encounter a particularly difficult person. If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate but necessary to keep records in case the situation escalates or winds up in human resources. Again, keep it to yourself. The last thing you want is for your coworker to hear that you’re keeping a file on them — that’s a quick way to make a bad situation worse.
Whether you call it office politics, networking, or people skills, learning to work well with others is a part of any office-based career (and I’d argue it’s just as important for entrepreneurs and freelancers).
What are some ways you practice good politics? How have you proactively dealt with negative situations?
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