office-politicsoffice-politicshow to handle office politics“Office Politics” is often thought as a nasty phrase – something to avoid, but the fact of the matter is as long as you work with other people in a company, office politics exist.   See my article on “Should I leverage Office Politics to Further My Career” to understand more.

How you deal with office politics can have a great impact on your job success at a company.   Early in my career, I was burnt by office politics.  In my first job at McKinsey I was blamed for something I didn’t do, and ended up with a bad project review.  The Manager who blamed me was up for promotion and had great relationships with key partners in the office. He needed a scapegoat for a major client complaint.  I was an easy target as I was junior, and no one knew enough about my work.  I protested; but without concrete evidence, his words meant more than mine.

At 22 years old, I learned an important lesson about office politics.  I tell you this story to help you better manage office politics and use it to your career advantage.   I have since learned to use it in my favor.  Is it fair to use them?  I say it is as long you don’t do it at the expense of another person.  Here are five tips.

Tip 1: Understand them and get in the game –  You cannot avoid office politics even if you try, so playthem before they play you.   Office Politics are about 1) understanding who have the power/influence in your office (e.g., your boss, your team member who is friends with your boss’s boss, executive assistant to the CEO) and 2) taking time to proactively build strategic relationships with some of these people – so they can help shape other people’s perception of your work and give you inside scoops on how to succeed at the company.

Tip 2: Know the difference between fair and unfair office politics ­-  The Manager I had at McKinsey played unfair office politics and advanced his own career at the expense of mine.  You can choose to do this if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  There are plenty of ways to play fair office politics whilie protecting yourself from those like this Manager.  By playing fair, you will have a clear conscience while being smart at work.

Tip 3:Invest time to build strategic relationships – Politics are not about ass-kissing.  You have to be genuine if you want it to work in your favor.  The key is to to have a strong network of supporters.  This way if any “shit” happens, you can go to them for honest advice and rely on them to speak up for you.

  • Find three to five people in your company who have the following 3 qualities
    1. Has some influence and say about your job performance rating (formerly or informally)
    2. You like and respect something about them
    3. You can establish something in common with them (a hobby or the desire to mentor junior people).
  • Find ways to connect with them on a deeper level (for example: over lunch to get career advice, play dates between their kids and your kids, join their tennis league, play golf together).
  • Find ways to help them with something – perhaps a side project.  If you do them a favor, they may feel compelled to help you in the future.

Tip 4: Subtly self-promote to your network – If you climbed over a mountain but no one else was there to witness it, does it count?  In your personal life, it might, but at work, if you did something great, it won’t really count until key people know about it.  So make sure key people are aware of your achievement and abilities.  Otherwise, you are at risk of someone else taking the credit for your work or people not appreciating your talents.  Many may think this is boasting, but there are ways to share successes without sounding like you are bragging.  For some ideas on how to do this, read my blog post on Self Promotion Ideas.

Tip 5: Regularly do a SWOT analysis on your work reputation – Usually this analysis is done for a company but in this case you can use it also to evaluate your own brand at work.  What are your and other people’s perceptions of your Strengths and Weaknesses at work? Are they aligned?  If not, what can you do to align them? Who (a peer, a boss) or what (a delayed project) could be a Threat to your work reputation?  What opportunities do you have to shine and enhance your work reputation?  For Threats, proactively think about what you can do to mitigate your risks.   For opportunities, proacitvely plan on how to take full advantage of it to show off your talent and make sure others are aware of it.   Do this SWOT within the first 90 days of joining a company and then once a year after that to assess your progress.

I know this sounds like a bit of work.  Like you, I use to think “Why play at all?  If a company is really merit-based, they should just recognize my brilliance directly.”  Well, it is simply NOT reality.  People are too busy at work or worried about themselves to always pay attention to what you are doing.  The only way to let them know how brilliant you are is if you show them, tell them, and build great relationships with them.  Only then can you count on them to stand up for you, speak well of you, and help you when you need it.   I have learned over the years that once you accept politics are a fact of life and understand why it’s important to play them, you will then start to use them to advance your career.   So get in the game and play it to your advantage!

Your comments: How do you deal with office politics?  share your stories.  Add your comment below and let’s have a discussion.

I am always in your corner.

– Lei

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