Skip to comments.Play the office politics game
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.
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.
"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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Timeless thoughts that need to be revisited. Good stuff.