5 ways to master office politics
Office politics get a bad rap, but playing the game doesn't have to mean succumbing to cattiness or becoming an apple-polisher. Instead, by mastering the politics of your organization with professionalism and respect, you can spin situations to your advantage, says Donna Wyatt, PhD, SPHR, a human resources instructor in the University of Phoenix MBA program who has worked in human resources for more than 30 years. The first step, Wyatt says, is to reconsider the definition of office politics.
"If I didn't use the word politics, but said 'Use techniques or tools to drive positive results for yourself or your organization,' most employees would agree that it's a good idea," Wyatt says. Another helpful way to think of office politics, Wyatt notes, is to focus on the fact that they use emotional intelligence and show your ability to have influence, which are good things.
Here, her five tips for navigating your workplace with finesse:
Build multiple alliances.
Some offices can feel as gossipy and cliquey as high school. Instead of identifying with a specific side in an office conflict, develop multiple networks, Wyatt suggests. This will show your initiative and communication skills and also help you determine how influence and power flow within the office. Plus, networking means you won't become isolated from the chatter or a target of gossip yourself.
Monitor your politicking.
Frequently complaining, taking feedback personally and breaking co-worker confidentiality are all examples of behavior that will breed your colleagues' distrust and ruin your credibility, Wyatt warns. Instead, she suggests, if you maintain optimism and trust, you're likely to win approval from management. "Those with promotional potential are generally on board with the company and their assigned job responsibilities," Wyatt notes.
Choose your arguments.
People don't like to work with co-workers who are prone to escalate minor conflicts to full-on wars. Watch your temper, especially with your boss, by playing a neutral role, Wyatt advises. You'll establish your niche in the political hierarchy as an even-keeled leader and quickly become an office asset.
Up your nonverbal cues.
Observers glean a lot from nonverbal gestures. "You want to present yourself as someone who embodies ... that you can be trusted and have a semblance of influence," Wyatt says. Your hand gestures and eye contact should reinforce your verbal communications, and you should dress the part as defined by management.
Underpromise and overdeliver.
This is the office politics version of a poker face: You can play the game of being an overachiever, but win it by strategically lowering the bar to ensure your success. For example, agree to a challenging project, Wyatt suggests, but push back on your boss's projected deadline — and then deliver it early. Volunteer your talents, but not so often that you set yourself up for failure. "Underpromise, but overdeliver and absolutely not the other way around," Wyatt says, "because that's the kiss of death."