Here is a message for people who say office politics don’t matter: You will die a slow, painful career death. This is because there’s no getting around office politics, and mastering them is essential to being able to steer your own career. Don’t take that as bad news, though, because mastering office politics is good for your soul. Really.
Office politics is inescapable because it’s about dealing with the people. A small percentage of people are mentally unable to understand office politics. The rest of you need to get with the program. Because where there is a group of people — anywhere, even on the playground – there is politics.
Let’s say you pack up your bags and go work in a national park, with trees and rivers and no cubicles. There will be politics about who has to take care of hikers when it’s raining and who gets to stay dry, and if you are bad at politics, you will be wet every time.
Politics is part of society. And my guess is that you want to participate in society (at least) so that you can support yourself. But people who are good at politics are generally empathetic (they understand who needs what) and they have good self-discipline (they can moderate themselves so they are pleasant to be with.)
Most people who hate politics think they have to change who they are to succeed. Really, though, anyone who is being their best self — kind, considerate, expressive, interested in others — will do fine in office politics.
So get to know yourself. Saying you just can’t do politics is giving up on being your best self. And wait, there’s more good news about office politics. If you really take a look at what’s going on over there at the water cooler, people are not jockeying for power, they are hobnobbing for projects. That’s right. For most people in today’s workplace, office politics is about getting the best opportunities to learn and grow; the best projects, the best training, the assignments that build skills the market values.
Office chatter with the vapid goal of getting power over other people is, frankly, a little offensive. But it is hard to fault people for wanting to grow and learn. In fact, I find more fault with people who care so little about personal growth that they won’t spend the extra energy politicking to get themselves on good projects.
Maybe you are convinced, but you are feeling at a loss to get started. Here are four things that people who are good at office politics do:
1. Make time for it — both in terms of face time, and time alone to analyze the face time.
2. Listen. How can you learn anything when you’re talking about what you already know?
3. Have genuine interest in other people. Each person is interesting if you are interested enough to ask the right question.
4. Practice empathy. This means putting yourself in other peoples’ shoes all the time. And not judging them.
Maybe you’re still thinking of being the person at the office who abstains from office politics. Realize that you won’t last long – in the office, that is. Putting your head down and doing your work is a good way to ensure that you don’t connect with anyone. This situation is deadly in a world where people are hired for what they know and fired for who they are. People need to get to know you in order to like you.
The act of making yourself likeable is office politicking. You shouldn’t have to be fake if you are a genuinely nice and interested person. If office politics requires you to do something that feels fake, consider that you were not likeable in the first place. For you, office politics is training ground to teach yourself to be likeable, and, as a side benefit, you will save your job. For others, office politics is the time at work when you get to be your best, true, self in search of more learning opportunities and more human connections.