Winning At Office Politics Without Selling Your Soul
I'd love to think we get ahead purely on the merits but, alas, that's naive. Even the most meritorious employee is wise to play office politics. That means taking steps to ensure you're liked, especially by people in a position to affect your career. Plus you must at least neutralize enemies, for example, someone who is jealous of you.
Some people will find the approach I'm about to recommend too planful. Fine. You make your choices, you take your chances.
PreventionsMake a list of everyone in your workplace who could help or hurt you. For each, ask yourself what would further ingratiate yourself to them:
- Make them look good?
- Take work off their plate?
- Help them get ahead?
- Listen to their complaints?
- Chat about their favorite topic?
- Help them solve a personal problem?
- Flirt with them?
- Ask to work on a project with them. For instance, "I've heard you're a great person to work for. If you ever find yourself needing a little extra help on a project, I'd be delighted if you'd ask me."
- Note when and where they go to lunch or hang out during breaks. Manage to be there.
- Invite them to lunch, a ballgame, shopping, a party, etc.
- At company events, for example, an all-staff meeting, prepare a conversation starter to use when you say hello to them. For example, "I hear you've been working on a native advertising project for our new 3D sensors. (Note: I just gave you an example of native advertising, the hottest thing in ads.) That's interesting. Mind telling me a little about it?"
- Interview them for an article in the in-house newsletter, intranet or trade publication.
CuresSo OK, all your non-random acts of kindness were insufficient. Someone's out to get you, for example, because they'd like your job or beat you out for a promotion.
It's safest to start mild, although occasionally going straight to the nuclear option can yield a big benefit -- a reputation of "Don't mess with Jane." Here are increasingly potent responses:
1. Do nothing. Sometimes, confronting the person or going to the boss is more likely to hurt than help you. And sometimes, your assumption of sabotage are wrong. Do you need to verify? Or perhaps that denigration of you is justified. Look inward or solicit feedback on yourself from trusted colleagues.
2. A question: "John, I heard you withheld information I needed to know. Is that true?" Whether it is or isn't, he'll probably deny it. Don't push it. The unspoken message is, "You do that again you sonofabitch and I'll hang you by your ... collar."
3. A warning: "Jane, you told the boss that my idea was yours. I know you want to beat me out for that promotion, but if you unfairly sabotage me one more time, I'll go to the boss, make sure you don't get that plum assignment, whatever."
4. Exert the punishment. Especially if you've given a warning and the perpetrator refuses to relent, follow through. For example, if you threatened to tell the boss, do it. Your complaint may gain additional gravitas if another employee with a similar gripe against the perpetrator accompanies you to spill the beans.
If you play preventive office politics, you may rarely need to pull out your curative weapons, let alone the big guns. But I'd be remiss if I told you that all you need do to win at office politics is play nicey-nice. Rule of thumb: Be nice when you can, tough when you must. It doesn't take that much effort and should help you get judged on your merits.
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The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News where he now also blogs. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America . More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here weekly.
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