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Office Politics and How You Can Make it Work for You

office politics

Office politics are strategies, whether good or bad, used to get leverage in the workplace. Most people associate office politics with backstabbing, favoritism, stepping on toes and self-interest. This is why most people would rather not engage in office politics at all. 

However, Avoiding office politics doesn’t always work in your favour. We all know that nice guy’s finish last, even in the workplace. Here are ways to understand the political landscape in your company.

Different Organisations, Different Levels of Office Politics

A company’s culture determines its level of office politics. Some organisations practice minimal office politics. In these companies, what you see is what you get. Rules and regulations are clear and policies are pretty straightforward. Any underhanded deals in such companies are avoided and discouraged. The work space is calm, devoid of conflicts, and competition for promotions and other perks is minimal. Such an organisation is “safe” to work in, but individual career growth is slow.

Some organisations practise moderate office politics where general rules govern staff engagement, and here politics are low-key. The team-player mentality in such organisations is strong, and competition is present since recognition is valued and rewarded. Conflicts are a common occurrence among the staff in these companies. Career growth in such organisations is, however, fast depending on one’s ability to stand out in their area of expertise.

Other organisations are highly political. Positions of power come with many advantages. Rules in such organisations are mainly invoked when they favour those in power. There are clearly defined cliques in the workplace and competition is cut-throat. Who you know rather than what you know can determine your success. Working in an organisation like this can be extremely stressful.

So, How Do You Survive Office Politics and Thrive?

The best strategy is to understand the office environment you are in. Once you pass the interview and report to work, make it your duty to study the company and identify the levels of office politics in play. Office politics are inevitable. You have to make the best of the environment you find yourself in.

In a low-level political environment;

  • Do your job well. Ensure that your key performance indicators are attained and that your supervisor is generally satisfied with your work.
  • Remember rules in such organisations are taken seriously so try to be on the compliant side as much as possible.
  • Seek growth.

In middle-level political environments;

  • Identify a respected colleague, higher in rank, to be your mentor. Not only will they view you as a trainee, but they will also influence your career growth and potentially defend you.
  • Be deliberately kind to colleagues. Once in a while, help someone who is struggling in an area you are good at in the office. It enhances interpersonal relationships.
  • Stand out by doing important and visible tasks. When you get an opportunity to shine, dazzle everyone with your skills and expertise. This puts you in a favourable position with key decision-makers.
  • Keep your antennae out for potential bad politics directed your way and handle any attack with grace.

In high-level political environments

If you view high-level political working environments as a challenge rather than a stressful bother, and you get a thrill from working in such an environment;

  • Learn from the best. Watch those who are skilled , If possible, get a worthy mentor.
  • Break any dysfunctional behaviour patterns that have made you lose important roles in the past. In a highly competitive environment, you need to constantly transform into a better version of yourself to thrive.
  • Be unpredictable. A highly competitive working environment is a jungle, and using the same strategies over and over may make you an easy target. 
  • Be careful what you say and to who. Highly competitive environments are fertile grounds for bad office politics. What you say in such organisations is used against you and you may find yourself getting penalised for a joke you made in a light moment.
  • Face your attacker and seek to smooth things between the two of you amicably. If they are not willing, learn to handle them without being drawn to bickering and squabbles.

How to Make Office Politics Work for You

Here are important questions to ask yourself in regards to office politics in your workplace. 

  • Are there informal networks/cliques in the workplace?
  • Who supports who?
  • Who is respected in the office?
  • How is success measured? What matters?
  • Who are the key formal and informal influencers?
  • Does the informal hierarchy run in parallel with the formal one?
  • Who are the gatekeepers? How do you get past them?
  • Who seems to be the first to know about upcoming changes?
Doreen Mueke
Doreen is the Senior Content Marketer at Ringier One Africa Media.
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