How to Build Your Political Sensitivity Muscle

Hopefully, at one point in your career, you'll have a chance to observe someone who seems to have the ability to navigate the workplace with grace and poise. What you will notice is how this individual manages conflict with tact and is not afraid to diplomatically express her or his thoughts at meetings. This individual is observed to influence other coworkers and builds professional relationships with ease. Most importantly, this individual is able to address conflict without having to ‘play the political game'. You may wonder how this individual has mastered office politics by gliding through the political waters and not get caught off guard by the waves.

Throughout my career, I've had an opportunity to observe only a handful of these gems who have built their political sensitivity muscle throughout their career. It's quite an honour to work alongside and watch people with this level of mastery. In my experience, these people have a strong sense of character and self. They are curious and not afraid to ask questions to fuel their constant thirst for knowledge. They seek to understand first. Their actions seem to reflect the learning and rich experiences from their life events and upbringing. These individuals seem to always be willing and prepared to apply what they have learned to address any situation they are faced with. When you're around them, you will feel their strong sense of character. They exude a balance of assertiveness, humility, and vulnerability.

On the scale below, how politically astute would you rate yourself?

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Here are some tips to help you enhance your political sensitivity muscle: 

Know Who You Are. If someone asks you, "who are you"? How would you respond? What are your strengths, vulnerabilities, values, and goals? Your response needs to reflect a holistic view of who you are - both personally and professionally. Being self-aware will help you identify your triggers and think through how you will act in different work situations.

Enhance Your Observation Skills. Pay attention to your surroundings. To become politically astute, you’ll need to notice changes in your environment and how people you work with behave. What do you see in people's facial expressions and body language? Think about the reasons behind their behaviours. Now combine this intel with the context of your work surroundings and you’ll be better informed to face various situations at work.  

Work with a Mentor. Learning from someone that you trust and respect or someone who has mastered workplace politics can help you to accelerate how you navigate your workplace with ease. Seek advice from an expert to support you through political dilemmas you may face.

Breathe and Think Before You Act. We are all human. This is what makes us emotional beings with temperaments. We are bound to react when triggered. If you feel stuck or don’t know what to do, take a deep breath. Inhale and then exhale. Pause and then think. If nothing comes to mind, ask a question and don't be afraid to say 'let me get back to you'. Give yourself time to respond. 

Build and Leverage Quality Relationships. Invest time to get to know other people. By observing others, you'll be able to determine who you can trust and rely on. Listening actively and practicing open communication are ways that can help you build relationships. In times of crisis, you’ll more likely be able to leverage those quality relationships. This is a much better option than knowing a lot of people only on the surface level. 

ACTION: Reflect on how you rated yourself on the political astuteness scale above. What is one thing that you can do this month to help you become more politically astute?