You might hate office politics — and that is understandable. Still, you could turn office politics into a valuable communication skill.
When prompted, most people would say that they hate office politics. They would describe it as a waste of everyone’s time. There’s merit to this argument for sure, but this perspective is also likely to be holding you back.
I would instead suggest thinking about your workplace contextually. Politics is what happens when people with different agendas use power and influence to get their way. Your workplace is no exception. So, instead of regarding office politics as an obstruction, why not add it to your ever-expanding toolbox of communication techniques?
7 ways to navigate office politics
1. Douchebag slalom skills is part of being competent
“But I just want to focus on doing a the best job I can instead of having to spend half my time dealing with incompetent douchebags.”
That’s fair — to a degree. First, you’d have to consider the possibility that those “incompetent douchebags” are frustrated about having to spend their time dealing with you. When push come to shove, few douchebags are aware of being douchebags. Second, douchebags have a habit of bickering with each other. It’s all part of every douchebag’s repertoire.
Word to the wise: Being truly competent at your job includes knowing how to slalom incompetent douchebags and still get the job done.
2. Identify, study, and mimic Type A personalities
Contrary to douchebags, consider that Type A personalities rarely fight each other. If two Type As are having a disagreement, they outline their arguments and they listen carefully to each other with the intent to understand — even if they can’t stand each other. Also, if a Type A receives a better argument, they will change their minds without adding position or prestige into the mix.
By recognizing Type A personalities in the workplace, you can study and mimic their traits. They steer clear of douchebags by listening to what they have to say, but without engaging with them emotionally. They don’t whine, nor do they complain, or engage in unnecessary arguments. In so many words: They’re adults.
3. “Wow” your colleagues on the regular
There are many ways to navigate a social environment. Some try to make friends. Some try to suck up to the right people. Some people try their utmost to be agreeable to everyone. Others engage in darker tactics, like strategic bullying, abuse of power, and clique formation. A rarer strategy for navigating an office is to continuously impress people.
The art of impressing someone is situational and have two components:
The second part is key; you don’t want to come across as the wise-ass kid sitting in front of the classroom with your hand stuck in the air. Nothing about such a delivery is unexpected — nor is it very welcome.
4. Pick fights to match your pay grade and job description
If you’re not in charge of internal communication, don’t make it your business to set everyone straight. The same is true for corporate culture, leadership decisions, product/market fit, supply chain logistics, etcetera. If it’s not your circus, then it sure as hell isn’t your monkeys.
Make sure to get your job done (which includes negotiating any obstacles in your path) instead of trying to do (or second-guess) someone else’s. If you’re better at a specific job than the person tasked with actually doing it, either apply for it or focus on your own business.
5. Just tell your co-workers, “The job is done now”
I’ve worked as a leader in different settings and, truth to be told, it can be quite taxing to have people come up to you all day with problems. It’s part of the job, of course, but I can’t stress how absolutely marvelous it is to sometimes have a co-worker come up to you and say, “The job is now done.”
On rare but blissful occasions, a co-worker might even come up to you and say, “The job is done. Next, I’m tackling this other thing. I’ll keep you posted.” Oh, the happiness!
“The job is done” might be the most beautiful phrase in all of business1. And the kicker is that anyone who makes a habit of delivering this particular piece of news will rarely have a problem with office politics2.
6. At least once a day, work the floor
No matter how much work’s on your plate, you should always leave your desk and work the floor at least once a day. There will always be co-workers available for a friendly exchange of words. While it might not be all that important to some of us, investing a few minutes in making others feel better can’t be considered a waste of time. Let go of your ego and your personal endeavors for a few minutes and take an interest in other people.
Now, some will jump at the opportunity to take advantage of your attentiveness by trying to use you as a sounding board for complaints and criticism. If you make a habit of steering such conversations back to a positive focus, you will take the wind out most bitter people quickly.
7. Use dog psychology for praise
Dogs have a tendency not to process negative feedback very well. in terms of enforcing change, your chances might be better if you decide to play the long game using only a) praise and b) absence of praise.
By making sure to praise your co-workers often, your colleagues will start to expect that positive feedback from you. You should therefore be generous with praise.
The trick here, of course, is to hold back on that praise for any behaviours you don’t condone. The absence of praise in this context is likely to have a greater effect than direct negative feedback delivered verbally3.
- That is, if the job actually is done. I hope that goes without saying.
- The only caveat is that you must deliver this piece of news face-to-face and one-to-one. That’s just the way this works.
- My personal principle is that I only deliver direct negative feedback to someone in a professional setting if I’m paid specifically to do just that.