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Navigating Office Politics: Tips for Staying Cool, Calm and Confident


Much as you might like to avoid it, office politics remain a necessary part of working in an organization. And, while the term “office politics” has a negative connotation, it isn’t all bad.

Think of office politics as managing work relationships or influencing positive change. Those sound like skills everyone needs to master, right? Other more positive ways to think of office politics include being a team player, acting in the best interest of the company, working well with other departments, and handling conflict well.

So how can you encourage the art of positive office politics in yourself and your team for the benefit of your business? The 30,000-foot techniques to focus on are:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Act in the best interest of the company
  3. Stay positive

When you are new to a company or a team, analysis is the first step in becoming adept at managing the political landscape before you.

Questions to consider: How clear are performance standards? Is there a definite hierarchy or is the business more democratic? How open are managers to new ideas? Is there a turf war, and if so, what’s behind it? Are decisions transparent? Do employees trust management? Is this the right time to make yourself more (or less) visible?

Some organizations are inherently more political than others. For instance, when employees perceive their team to be managed by whim or unclear expectations, people tend to be more political in an attempt to influence their personal outcome.

If you understand what works well in your organization, you’ll have greater success navigating relationships and conflict, and coaching your employees on the best ways to do the same. 

Seek to understand before being understood

When there’s a conflict, how often do you stop and really listen to what someone else is saying (or not saying)? Most of us tend to want to communicate our point, our needs, and our perspective, first.

However, making the effort to listen to someone else before expressing your points can make a tremendous difference in earning respect and resolving conflict.

If you’re trying to build conflict resolution skills in your team, get employees to switch sides and argue the other’s point to get them to see things from a different perspective.

Warning: If you or the other party are aggravated and amped up, wait until things have calmed down before attempting to listen and discuss the issues. You’ll be more successful at finding a common resolution.

Focus on business goals

The negative association of office politics comes from people who try to manipulate situations for their own benefit rather than the good of their team or the business. You can avoid that moniker by always focusing on the organization’s goals.

Think in terms of “Here’s what we need to do to accomplish X.” This helps you feel like less of a victim of circumstance and more of a business leader who can accomplish the task at hand.

Whatever you do, don’t sit around complaining or let Negative Nelly sessions get out of control among your team.  Complaining is demoralizing to you and those around you, and damages your reputation. You want to be seen as a mature individual who does what it takes to get a job done well and handles difficult circumstances with grace, not as an ineffectual complainer.

Look for the win-win

Don’t just think in terms of your job, your deadline or your department. People who are adept at office politics know that it’s in everyone’s best interest to look for mutually agreeable solutions.

If there truly is a problem that’s stopping you from accomplishing your goal, then consider why. Don’t take obstacles personally if they come in the form of another employee or department.

Focus on what you’re trying to achieve and how you can find a workable resolution together. Be open to discussing the pros and cons of various solutions. You’ll be seen as a can-do leader rather than a manager who settles for the status quo. 

Stay neutral

Don’t take sides in a conflict. It’s important to remain as neutral as possible, and if you are asked to comment, keep your remarks focused on what you think is best for the business.

This can calm tensions when emotions are running high or people are beginning to take things personally. Your neutral position should help keep you out of the line of fire should internal warfare erupt.

Develop a circle of influence

Employees naturally fall into a hierarchy of sorts with their immediate peers. Those astute in office politics also make sure they have friends in different departments, at various levels of the company.

Just as it’s wise to be nice to the receptionist when you interview, it’s equally prudent to develop your network during cross-departmental projects and meetings, company picnics and happy hours. Look past the title and get to know the positive people who get things done. Avoid aligning yourself with the whiners.

You can call upon this network, or circle of influence, when you’re trying to integrate problematic new policies or procedures or get a project moving. You never know who will be able to help you meet a tight deadline or affect needed change.

Looking for more tips that’ll help you be an admirable leader? Download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.