These days, most of us are sick of politics.
If we had the choice, we’d ignore it all together.
It’s easy enough to turn off the all-day news station and avoid the specter of national politics. But when it comes to workplace politics, there’s no escaping it. Whether you like it or not (and rest assured, most people don’t like it), it’s still a necessary evil. To get ahead, you have to understand it and use it to your advantage.
According to a survey conducted by staffing company Robert Half, 62% of workers said office politics is somewhat necessary or very necessary to advance one’s career. These people understand a fundamental truth about business: Establishing and leveraging strong workplace relationships are crucial components for success.
“Politics” is a catchall phrase used in business to refer to workplace dynamics. Being politically astute simply means you’re highly aware of those dynamics and you’re able to navigate the various personalities (and egos) involved to get things done.
So, how do you do that? Here are 3 strategies:
Stay Up-To-Date With Workplace News
At its worst, office politics manifests in gossip—and this is why people want to avoid it. In that respect, your instinct to run is right. Gossip is unreliable and often vicious. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk with others about what they know.
You do, however, need to separate fact from fiction. Avoid contributing to conversations based on speculation or those motivated by a desire to damage the reputation of others. Just keep tabs on what’s happening—what people are doing, thinking and feeling—and use that information wisely, without feeding into it inappropriately.
For example, if the rumor mill is murmuring about potential upcoming layoffs, don’t get deeply involved in anxious conversations and conjecture about who’s on the chopping block. Instead, let that knowledge drive you to be proactive: do your best to position yourself as indispensable and update your resume in the meantime.
Build Broad, Strong Alliances
The best politicians know how to build alliances—groups of people with whom they have mutually beneficial relationships. Together, they can get things done that otherwise might not happen. Make efforts to build alliances both within your own team and also outside of it. Work collaboratively with other groups to accomplish things that are important to all involved.
It’s also useful to build individual alliances across the organization. Get to know your colleagues and find out what their personal goals are. When you have the ability to help, do so. When you’re able to support people in achieving their dreams, they feel a natural debt of gratitude. While this shouldn’t be your sole motivation, it can be a useful tool for leverage in the future when you need a favor of your own.
Hone Your Diplomacy Skills
The biggest obstacle to successfully navigating workplace politics is the simple fact that you’re dealing with people, and people can be emotional. They have opinions and ideas and they may not always align with yours. Interpersonal conflicts can damage your professional reputation, as well as your ability to build strong relationships and get things done.
Effective workplace politicians know how to communicate with tact. They can express their own point-of-view without insulting or talking down to others. They can mediate difficult conversations, build consensus, and articulate unpopular realities in a way that others can hear.
If you’re not a natural workplace politician, you may need to take deliberate steps to improve your political prowess. But be cautious about taking your lessons from the real politicians. Instead, remember that respect, professionalism, and courtesy reign supreme. You’ll always accomplish more by avoiding those down-and-dirty games that give politics a bad name.