Office Politics exist. And at some point, you will have to deal with them.
Most people would prefer to pretend office politics didn’t exist, that you could merrily go about your job and over the course of a few years make your way to higher and higher positions. And if that has been the case for your career thus far, congratulations! Whatever you are doing, bottle it up and sell it. But for everyone else trying to keep up in the cut-throat world that you would normally expect at almost any fortune 500 type of firm, it’s time to come up with a strategy. That’s just what Sara Conroy did.
Conroy received her Bachelors from University of Pittsburgh and started her career as a Tax Associate at PwC, the kind of firm that is notorious for hiring waves of fresh grads and watching them fight to survive. Conroy recognized this early on and decided to play office politics like a game. And as a result, she was able to receive more attention from the higher-ups, get better work, higher salaries, and even a sponsored masters degree.
Recently, Conroy presented a webinar in association with University of Pittsburgh titled: ‘Office Politics: the Rules of the Game’ (view the recording here). In this webinar, she details some of the strategies she used to win at the game. She likens politics to the board game ‘Risk’, in which you must make strategic alliances and grow your reach across the globe.
Here are the 5 battle tactics Conroy uses to play the office politics game:
Survive – And Strategize.
Before you can start to play the game, you need to fortify your position within the company and hold a strong ground amongst your peers. You need to have your poker face on at all times and keep a level head. “You don’t want to over-react to things…” says Conroy, “always look completely calm and never (be) over-emotional.” This includes your verbal communication, and what your body language communicates. You need to show your peers and the people above you that you are cool, calm, collected, and focused at all times. If you want to look the part of someone who can quickly climb the ranks, you need to play the part. So no matter what else is happening around you (lazy colleagues, unfair promotions, others being awarded a major project), keep surviving. Global (office) domination will come soon enough.
Phase two involves identifying the key players and viewing the layout of the battlefield. Where are the existing alliances? Who do the higher-ups favor? Why do they favor these people? Take as much time as you need to see how people are currently playing the game and take note. At this point, you should be pleasant to your coworkers, but don’t start to build alliances quite yet.
Plan Your Attack.
Now is the time to go on the offensive. Begin to do a healthy dose of self promotion. Conroy suggests you show your achievements, seek opportunities to show off your skill-set, and make this visible to the higher ups or those who could become important alliances at the company. Make yourself look impressive – and make your boss look impressive too. Now you can start to form alliances once people recognize you as a major player at the company. But be warned: “show your integrity at all times. Never compromise your integrity to make an alliances” said Conroy.
Here is where it gets interesting. Others will see you playing the game. They may even try to take you down a few pegs with any chance they get. “‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer’ really comes in to play,” said Conroy. “If you know someone who is being negative about you…you want to get to know them very, very well,” Conroy continues: “use the skills from rule 1, learn to counter them with excessive kindness.” They may try and get you to over-react and lose your cool. But this is when you need to keep your poker face on and not give them the reaction they want. “By doing this, you can avoid being the target of their aggression, and neutralize them” said Conroy. You will look like the bigger person, and people will take notice of how you handle the situation.
Conquer the Workplace.
Continue to impress your boss and deftly neutralize the competition. This is how you build your influence and fame within the company. But it is important to remember that you can’t cut corners, you have to continue to play by the rules, and you need to maintain your integrity at all times. Then you can reap the rewards.
Most importantly, Conroy reminds us that office politics is a game – and not playing is the same as losing. She cites Plato, who said: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”