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Play the office politics game
Bankrate dot COM ^ | 11-16-2003 | By Cynthia Broderick

Posted on 11/19/2003 3:24:41 PM PST by vannrox

Play the office politics game

Let's play Office Politics! All you need are two people and the game begins.

Playing the game of office politics is inevitable. Oh, perhaps you believe that you're above such foolishness, but that's really just one more way to play the game. Office politics is simply human nature in the workplace. If you work with humans -- even if they only resemble humans -- then you are dealing with politics.

"If there's more than one person, you've got office politics," explains Rob Sarmiento, a Houston psychologist, also known as the CyberPsychologist. He continues, "Politics is essentially competition. Who's going to get a raise or a better job or special project or recognition."

"Change and ambiguity and uncertainty breed office politics," adds William E. Rosenbach, professor of management at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. "A lot of office politics involves people who are gatekeepers. They get power from knowing what's going on." And sometimes you have to deal with them to get your real job done.

"You're a fool to try to ignore [office politics]," Rosenbach sums up.

On that note, pick your game piece and meet me at Go.

You win if you don't permanently anger anyone off and you advance in your career.

Oh, the rules? Rosenbach explains that one of the definitions of politics is that it includes non-sanctioned means of influence. In other words, the rules are unwritten. You learn them as you go along. Sarmiento recommends picking up hints through networking and observation. Perhaps we'll find a few important rules hidden below.

This game requires a minimum of two players unless you're into playing mind games with yourself. Anyway, players include your boss, your boss' boss, co-workers, subordinates, the receptionist, and even the cleaning crew and customers.

Rule: Everyone's a player even if they don't know it.

Someone low on the totem pole may believe they are too junior for anyone to care what they do or think. Not so says office politics expert Ronna Lichtenberg, author of Work Would Be Great If It Weren't for the People.

When it comes to office politics, differing self-interests make everyone a player. Self-interests come into conflict because, "We don't understand why people want different things from ourselves," Lichtenberg says.

The next time co-workers start doing odd things around you, remember that everyone has their own objectives and goals. More often than not whatever your co-worker or boss is doing has absolutely nothing to do with you.

"The most profound thing to look out for is irrational people. They're doing things that they believe will work out for them in the short run," weighs in Thomas Becker, associate professor of management in the Department of Business Administration at the University of Delaware.

Picking teams
Back in school, you were probably happy to get picked for a team, but here in the work world, you'll want to avoid getting into an us vs. them mentality.

"You can get caught up in someone else's agenda. You can get enmeshed in something and not understand it," warns Lichtenberg.

Rule: Don't get trapped in someone else's game.

"Identify different constituencies at work: management, customers, co-workers and subordinates. They each have different needs. Recognizing their needs is a good policy," Becker says about how to play good office politics.

"Cultivate relationships with people who'll handle the truth. People tend to get into little groups that reinforce their point of view. You get the most stuck when you keep looking for reinforcement of your own point of view. You dig yourself in and deny yourself options," Lichtenberg says.

Simon Says
The grapevine is a living source of important information and can be useful for any working professional. The danger is when office talk blurs into juicy gossip. Sarmiento says you want to avoid the temptation to get down and dirty. Keep any juicy items you hear in a work context.

In other words, if you find out a co-worker is drinking heavily at lunch and missing meetings in the afternoon, then that's affecting the workplace and it deserves action. But if you find out that another co-worker is having an affair with someone outside the office, and it's not causing a problem at the office, then it's really not your concern in a professional capacity.

While you can gather info and even disseminate useful facts through the grapevine, be careful to keep yourself and your life out of it. "Don't get too personal. You want to self-disclose selectively," Sarmiento reveals.

Rules: Be careful discussing personal problems. Don't assume anything will stay secret.

Follow the leader
I'm sure it's hard to believe, but bosses play office politics as well. Higher ups may have to be polite to each other, but they can and will use their subordinates to battle, without telling us little pawns, Lichtenberg reveals.

Sadly, insecure managers may also encourage office politics between factions of their staff, Rosenbach says.

Rule: Watch out for boss' favorites or pets. Don't incur their wrath either.

"It can be annoying to new workers that these people benefit from the boss' favor. But you need to get along with these people. You have to play the game because a pet in your corner can boost your career," recommends Julie Campbell, assistant professor of business at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo.

Part of non-dirty office politics involves the power imbalance between bosses and subordinates. Whether you were friends before this person became your boss, or you just think your boss is cool, it is difficult to be friends with the boss. Lichtenberg explains, "The boss is your boss, not your girlfriend. She has responsibility for you. It's a heavy thing."

It's not a matter of mistrust but of an unequal power relationship. If your boss is someone you really like, stay friendly and keep in touch after your work relationship has ended.

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
What's the prize in the office politics game? In dirty office politics, it's usually something as petty as the smug accomplishment of bettering a co-worker. Rosenbach paraphrased Henry Kissinger when he explained that office politics can get vicious because the stakes are so low.

But sometimes the stakes can be quite high. Play office politics well and you may gain access to the boss' ear, which can boost your career. Play the game badly, and you could lose your job ... or worse.

"The worst thing, you could get stuck in your career, in a dead end, blocked," Sarmiento explains.

Young workers may have certain expectations that the adult work-world is a place of logical, unbiased decisions, with an ultimate concern for the bottom dollar or the customer. In reality, the workplace is not that different from the petty clique-ishness of high school -- with the addition of two more layers of complexity, Lichtenberg says. At work, you're dealing with real money and people who have the power to fire you.

Chutes & Ladders
"The essence of politics is look at what's in it for the other person," explains Sarmiento. "You get what you want by helping others get what they want."

Rules: Establish affiliations of mutual advantage with important people. People will always be able to refer you to other jobs. Be the good guy who does your job well.

If you find yourself in a conflict with another person at work, Lichtenberg recommends changing your strategy rather than waiting for others to change. She advises finding some other way to fulfill an opponent's need. In other words, if the supply clerk makes you run through hoops to get a box of pens, discover this person's motive. Perhaps they feel out of the loop or unacknowledged. In that case, find someway to recognize this person and pay positive attention to them. You may find them less rigid in their bureaucracy.

Tag, you're it
Rule: Keep it professional at all times.

Sarmiento recommends accepting office politics as a part of your job. He explains, "Networking and politicking are not distractions -- they're part of the job. Do it in a professional way. Apply the same ethics and hard work to that part of your job."

Some folks believe if things are managed correctly, we'll all get along perfectly. That's not possible, Lichtenberg explains.

"Office politics is like marriage and democracy," Lichtenberg says. She explains that these are all ideals; the reality is usually a bit messier. "You can have less office politics in the corporate equivalent of fascism, so the alternative is not pleasant."

Rule: Never make enemies on the way up. You'll meet them again on the way down.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; News/Current Events; Political Humor/Cartoons; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: boss; building; career; collar; college; corporate; degree; dilbert; finance; graduation; life; men; office; politics; university; white; women; worker
I really liked this article. I wanted to share it.
1 posted on 11/19/2003 3:24:45 PM PST by vannrox
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To: vannrox
Latest terms to add to your vocabulary in the 21st century office environment:

*ssmosis - The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss.

Blamestorming - Sitting around in a group discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible.

Seagull Manager - A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, *hits over everything and then leaves.

Salmon day - The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end.

Chainsaw consultant - An outside expert brought in to reduce the employee head count, leaving the brass with clean hands.

CLM (Career Limiting Move) - Used among microserfs to describe ill-advised activity. Trashing your boss while he/she is within earshot is a serious CLM (Also known as CLB - Career Limiting Behavior).

Bozone layer - The barrier surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas

Adminisphere - The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

Dilberted - To be exploited and oppressed by your boss. Derived from the experiences of Dilbert, the geek-in-hell comic strip character. "I've been dilberted again. The old man revised the specs for the fourth time this week."

Flight Risk - Used to describe employees who are suspected of planning to leave the company or department soon.

404 - Someone who's clueless. From the World Wide Web error message "404 Not Found", meaning that the requested document could not be located. "Don't bother asking him.....he's 404, man!!"

Ohnosecond - That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

Percussive Maintenance - The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.

Prairie Dogging - When someone yells or drops something loudly in a "cube farm" (an office full of cubicles) and everyone's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

2 posted on 11/19/2003 3:55:51 PM PST by Yehuda (
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To: Yehuda

Timeless thoughts that need to be revisited. Good stuff.

3 posted on 09/13/2005 6:51:43 AM PDT by pointsal
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To: pointsal; Dad yer funny

blast from the past!

4 posted on 09/13/2005 10:29:53 PM PDT by Yehuda ("Land of the free, THANKS TO THE BRAVE!" (Choke on it, pinkos!))
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