What Insights Have You Gained About Workplace Politics?

Whenever there is more than one person involved in any situation, politics is inevitable. Office politics is when people plan to use power, influence, and authority to seek benefits. Workplace politics can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, however, it generally has a negative connotation for many of us. For example, we tend to blame others or the organization when we did not get the promotion. 

How often do you think about office politics? Here are some common responses that I have heard over the years:

  • There is no office politics and I love my workplace!
  • I am aware of office politics and try my best to avoid it. 
  • I work in a highly bureaucratic environment where I need to socialize with the right people just to keep my job.

No matter where you are on this spectrum you are most likely part of office politics. You may not even know others' are playing office politics. People are observing you every chance they get to gain insights about who you are to maybe support you or work against you. For example, how you spoke to the cleaning staff, how you walk into a room, your writing style in an email, what you ate for breakfast, how you react to changes at work and the list goes on. It is human nature for people to talk about, compare, and analyze your performance.  

I believe that the key ingredients to enhance your personal and professional presence are as follows:

  • Maintain a level of self-awareness to not succumb to organizational politics that feels unnatural.
  • Build and maintain your reputation with key stakeholders.
  • Effectively navigate office politics in a productive manner that fits naturally with who you are.

Remember, you have a choice as to how you react and act to office politics. In these situations, your political navigational skills will be tested and you may question yourself. This is normal and part of your learning. I have struggled with many difficult conversations and situations, and have coached others' in countless precarious positions. It would be ideal if we could all practice and build our political sensitivity muscle. Here are some questions to consider as you navigate workplace situations:

  • What are your observational skills?
  • What is your level of self-awareness?
  • How can you optimize your strengths?
  • Who do you trust to seek advice from?
  • How attuned are you to verbal and non-verbal cues?
  • What do you want to be known for? What is your personal brand?
  • What business acumen works for you to handle difficult workplace situations to meet your career aspirations and give you a sense of freedom at work?

On the flip side, think about how you have used office politics positively. I sometimes call this “playing the right politics”, “having good business etiquette”, "politeness and courtesy" or "quid pro quo". This can be as simple as saying “thank-you” or “have a nice day” to the administrative assistant after a meeting with a senior leader. However, be genuine. Find a voice that is authentic to you. Understanding workplace politics helps you thrive within an organization. Find what feels natural for you.

ACTION: Spend a few days this week observing how someone you respect carries herself/himself. What do you notice about their behaviours and actions that are politically astute? Start to enhance your professional presence by considering some of my questions above.