Over the years I have frequently had discussions with new managers who expressed their disdain for ‘office politics.’ Likewise, up-and-coming analysts and techs have told me that if they ever became a manager they simply would not tolerate it.
After nearly 30 years in a management role, I can tell you any thought of avoiding ‘politics’ in the office is more than a little naive. It’s going to be something you have to deal with as a manager, so if you have decided to move up in your career it’s something you’ll need to understand and learn how to deal with in short order. Why? Because people are people — there will always be people who are in a position of power who leverage their position to find an advantage. Others feel the need to do whatever they must in order to get ahead, no matter who or what happens to be in their way.
Nowadays, finances are tight, and office politics often come into play as teams or individuals lobby for funding. There’s nothing like adding in the complexities of finance to make people even more passionate about an issue. And passion will often lead to conflict.
But what do you do when you’re faced with someone who is running you down or spreading rumors behind your back? There are some clear ‘do’s and don’ts’ when faced with this type of situation. What you don’t want to do is reply in kind. Don’t sink to the same level and never, ever run down others to your staff.
What you do want to do is approach the situation head-on. If you know who is responsible approach them privately and have a frank discussion to try and work things out. If the activity continues you may need to escalate the issue to your manager. I’d suggest a meeting with the offending party and a representative of management. If that doesn’t work you may need to escalate further to your HR department.
Politics at the office is not all bad. For example, if there is a project you would like to get off the ground it would be vital to have a sponsor. Knowing who would be the right choice to aid you in running a successful project is really a political decision. Likewise, understanding how to bypass individuals who would be a roadblock would involve a knowledge of the ‘politics’ of your office.
Another word for politics could simply be networking — getting to know the organization chart and understanding who is in the best position to influence your career. Identify those people and get to know them. Don’t be afraid because of their position in the organization. Do your best to make a positive impression, but avoid undue flattery — be honest and open. Try to get to know people without joining a clique or being identified as being on someone’s side.
Office politics are unavoidable for any manager who wants to be successful. How we leverage politics determines how well we succeed. Understanding the organization and keeping everything open and positive can actually help your career.