If you thought your left the cliques and drama behind when you graduated from high school, the reality of the work world must have come as a surprise. Anytime you take the same group of people and lock them into a building together eight hours a day, five days a week, things will get a little hairy, especially when you add the competition and hierarchies of the work place. Failing to successfully navigate the social scene in high school just means you don’t get to sit at the cool kids lunch table. If you don’t get a handle on the politics in your workplace it can cost you your career in the form of lost promotions and poor working relationships.
Officepolitics.com, a great site that features an advice column offering solutions to workplace dilemmas, recently featured a reader letter in which a woman said she felt psychologically scarred by the backbiting and gossip in her office. The phrase “office politics” leaves a poor taste in everyone’s mouth, but the reality is, most of us have to participate to get ahead and get noticed at work. Successful office politicians aren’t rumor-mongers or back stabbers; they’re people who understand that actively pursuing power and prestige is just one of the steps to a successful career.
So how do you become a successful office politician? Louellen Essex, co-author of “Manager’s Desktop Consultant: Just-in-Time Solutions to the Top People Problems That Keep You Up at Night,” says one the first things you have to do is emulate the movers and shakers. “Think of playing office politics as a game of strategy through which you are able to get the resources and influence you need to accomplish your goals. Most often those who are diplomatic, respectful and build coalitions with effective people win,” she says at CNN.com. Essex offers more great advice, including: don’t get sucked into one faction or another and don’t hesitate to talk about your own successes in the work place. A word of caution — tooting your own horn as Essex recommends is great. Bashing your co-workers is not. Office politics is for advancing your own career, not hindering someone else. If you are constantly running down you colleagues, you look unprofessional and you create a miserable work environment. Don’t be that person! Office politics also turns nasty when it turns personal. For that reason, the folks over at Suite101.com recommend drawing a bright red line between your work life and your private life. In the modern office, that includes not friending your co-workers on Facebook. That’s what the relatively staid LinkedIn is for.
The best way to be an office politics winner? Be a good employee. Take initiative, do your work well and talk about your successes. Those are the best ways to separate yourself from the pack.