For many people, the idea of using office politics to your advantage sounds Machiavellian, as if you need to manipulate, deceive, and destroy on your way to the top.
But you’d be naive to think politics don’t influence your success, and the first step to leveraging them may be to change your definition of politicking.
It’s not about kissing butt and being fake, says Handel Group cofounder and corporate coach Beth Weissenberger, who has worked with teams at companies like General Electric and The New York Times. It’s really about building relationships.
And it’s something you need to start doing if you aren’t already. “Most people who don’t politic are the ones who aren’t getting promoted,” Weissenberger tells us.
“In every organisation small or large, if you want to get ahead, you have to play the game,” she says.
Think of office politics as networking within your own company. It’s about lowering barriers between hierarchical levels to foster communication and develop connections with people above and below you, which also happens to be one of Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson’s fundamental business principles.
When Weissenberger works with an employee, she asks them to think of their coworkers as being on their level or above or below them. She then pushes this employee to make sure that they’re not just interacting with their peers.
Stop eating lunch at your desk every day and start getting something to eat with coworkers, she advises. Or grab coffee with a coworker who you may not know well.
The relationships you build will not only make your time at the office more enjoyable, but they can come into play when you’re looking for a promotion or even a new job elsewhere down the line.
Weissenberger says that a difficult lesson for many people to learn is that you’re not going to advance in your career on hard work alone. It’s all about who you’re friends with.
If you’re a manager, Weissenberger says, then it’s your responsibility to teach your employees how to build relationships.
Weissenberger says that the antidote to a suck-up employee is having a real conversation with them. You should be aware of all of your team’s ambitions, so ask them directly what their aspirations within the company are.
And even if you’re the CEO, it’s still part of your job to connect with employees at every level, since all leaders are defined by their teams.
Finally, make sure that you never resort to or even entertain petty gossip about coworkers or your boss.
“When you’re politicking in the office, you’re creating your reputation. You’re handling your own PR,” Weissenberger says.
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