Dealing with office politics isn’t an option; it’s a fact of life.
A recent poll conducted by Robert Half International confirms what many of us experience: 56 percent of workers said that participating in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to get ahead.
But office politics isn’t a zero-sum game.
“Politics doesn’t have to be about working the system to your own advantage while others lose out,” says CCL’s Bill Gentry. “It’s about developing high-quality networks and relationships, knowing yourself well, and having a good sense about what’s going on around you.”
In a new book, Developing Political Savvy, Gentry and co‑author Jean Leslie write about how political skill can help your career. They suggest trying four strategies for boosting your long-term political — and career — success.
Mingle Strategically. Politically savvy people take a strategic approach to networking and building relationships. It’s not about schmoozing with the bosses or how many people you are connected to. “Networking is about connecting with the right people so you have a greater insight — and greater say,” Leslie explains.
To get a clear picture of your network, take a piece of paper and draw a circle in the middle. Write your name in the circle. Then write down the names of people with whom you have strong connections — put them close to your circle. Write the names of those with whom you have weak or distant ties farther away from your circle. Finally, ask yourself who should be in your network? Place them (either by name or role) farthest out on your paper. Then look for patterns in your connections. Are your close ties limited by location or function? Who knows the people you want to know? With this insight, you can strategically ask for introductions or find other ways to meet or work with key people.
Read the Situation. Politically savvy managers tend to be perceptive observers. Social astuteness — the ability to read and anticipate situations — allows you to prepare, adapt and tailor your behavior based on the people and conditions around you.
One way to boost your powers of observation is to pay attention to the nonverbal behaviors of the people around you. In your next meeting, try to get a sense for how people are feeling in addition to what they are saying. This idea applies to virtual meetings as well, but rather than watching, you’ll want to observe by listening. Active listening — pay attention, hold judgment, reflect, clarify, summarize and share — allows you to hear and understand where others are coming from.
Determine the Appropriate Behavior Before Acting. This is essentially impulse control. You don’t need to always say what is on your mind or jump right in with your solution. If you are composed (especially when things don’t go your way), people are more likely to be at ease around you, allowing you to have difficult conversations, gain support and build political influence.
Pay attention to your reactions this week. Who and what trigger emotional or impulsive responses from you? What might be the political and relationship fallout from your actions? What would happen if you pause to gain perspective and then choose the best response? If impulse control is a big challenge for you, consider working with a coach or mentor to help you identify your hot buttons and find ways to deal with them.
Leave a Good Impression. “Office politics can veer into manipulation when it is separated from trust,” Leslie warns. Politically astute managers find that by being honest and sincere in their relationships and requests, they inspire others to trust and have confidence in them.
See if you can get honest feedback from coworkers or advisors on your influence style. Do people perceive your efforts as manipulative, insincere or back-handed? Are you seen as trying too hard or taking way more than you give? Do you make promises you (or your team) can’t keep? Over time, a lack of integrity will weaken relationships, bring your credibility into question and undermine your influence.