It’s hard to keep your workplace free of dirty politics.
No doubt you have at least one coworker who constantly seeks the upper hand—often at the expense of others or at the expense of the business.
Office politicking is sordid business, but it’s as hard to avoid as foot fungus on a locker room floor.
Wherever there is a misalignment between the business goals and the goals of an individual, passive-aggressive behavior is sure to be found. And as long as some people have more power (real or perceived) than others, jealousy will give rise to workplace scheming.
Most people want to get their way. It’s normal. Most people can be passionate about their ideas and their work, too. Often, employees are vying with someone else for a higher rank within the organization or some other position of influence. And that’s when elements of age-old tribal conflict are introduced into our normally civil work environment.
You’ll never be able to eliminate office politics any more than you can squash human nature. But you can combat the ill effects. Here’s how.
- Build key relationships with influential people in your organization. Cross the hierarchy of your workplace by reaching out to peers, executives, middle management and interns alike. Recognize that some of these people have “informal power,” meaning they are valued and respected members of the organization even if they aren’t technically in decision-making roles. Having these people in your corner lifts you from the fray of an office squabble (at least in the eyes of the bosses who depend on their counsel).
- Spend more time listening than talking. People love listeners. The more you keep your mouth closed the less likely you are to say something that will make its way through the grapevine.
- Avoid brown-nosing. You don’t have to flatter people to get them on your side. Just be friendly with the people around you and don’t align yourself with any particular group. Be a part of every network. Only then will you have a clear picture of the relationships around you and how they work to hinder and help everyone.
- Chill. When the boss congratulates your supervisor for his bright idea (the same idea the supervisor thought was stupid when you presented it to him), resist the temptation to have a small meltdown. Likewise, when the back-stabber in the next cubicle tries to get you in trouble, relax. Keep your cool at all times and under all circumstances. It will serve you well in the long run.
- Psst … Keep it to yourself. Have you ever noticed how the huddled heads around the water cooler are rarely speaking in hushed tones about anything positive, or about someone else’s admirable qualities and accomplishments? They’re usually slinging mud, aren’t they? Steer clear of office gossip or you’ll get muddied up yourself. Sure, it’s not always easy, but the gossip-mongers will drag you down with their tales of intrigue.
- When you have to take action, stay level-headed. Sometimes you just can’t turn the other cheek. If office politics are hampering your work, make sure you deal with the issue head-on. You want to target the behavior, never the person, so confront the maligning party privately and fairly. Watch what you say around them (it will be repeated). Recognize that their behavior probably comes from a shortage of self-confidence and make them think you’re there to help them.
Workspace conflicts happen when there are conflicting interests. The conflicts, however, are often imaginary. Too many people are assuming there has to be a loser for there to be a winner. Work together to achieve a “win-win” outcome, and make it clear when discussing the issue with a supervisor or other mediator that you seek a resolution that works for everybody.
Of course, someone may get their toes stepped on in the end, but if your boss sees you making a genuine effort to take the high road, the chances of that person being you are greatly reduced.