Seven things to know about office politics

Whether you love or hate it, office politics will almost certainly occur in any firm. How can you navigate political pitfalls in the workplace?

Seven things to know about office politics
“When I tell clients that I help others navigate the rocky shoals of the politics in organisations, a very large percentage of them say, ‘I don’t play politics’.”
For Cindy Tonkin, business consultant, while the whole idea of office politics is important, it is always there but few people exactly how to play, she said.
As author of the book, Office Politics: You don’t have to play but you do need to know the rules to stay off the field!, she spoke to us about what we all should know when it comes to navigating the political arena at work.
1) It is everywhere
Politics is in all places, Tonkin said, and the underlying issue about why it exists is because we care.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t care,” she added. “You should. You just need to be in an organisation where what you care about is aligned with what other people care about.”
Misalignment here can cause conflict especially if there is more than one agenda on the table.
2) Not playing is still playing
“All those young innocents who say they won’t play or don’t play are either oblivious or being used as pawns in someone else’s game,” she said.
While it might be possible to stay off the field of politics, it helps to know where the field starts and ends and what the game is. Otherwise “you are picnicking in a big green field where a rough game of rugby is in progress”.
3) We all play
Everyone plays politics, Tonkin said, whether they are pleasing a client, looking after their boss or getting a colleague to help with a deadline. It’s just that at these times, we think we are being kind instead of taking part in the game.
“Politics is caring about your job, your boss, your reputation, your products, the quality of your customer experience, and the quality of your work,” she said. “So we are all playing politics when we care.”
4) Beware the unwritten rules
Every organisation has these, she said. They can include rules such as only listening to those who outrank you, or that marketing beats sales.
“These are unwritten rules because no one needs to write them down. The unwritten rules make your organisational culture. Contravening [them] is how you make a political faux pas.”
5) Not everyone important has a title
While titles such as CEO matter, connections are equally important, said Tonkin.
“The head of accounts is the marketing guy’s sister-in-law. The receptionist plays squash with the CEO’s administrator. People are connected.”
These connections are how we build agreement on the matters we care about which are, as mentioned before, important in politics.
6) You can’t always trust your boss
How your boss’ values line up with what you care about is what makes them trustworthy, Tonkin said. However, this is not always constant.
“Remember that our values change over time. If there’s a choice between feeding their family and feeding yours, most bosses will choose their own.”
7) Politics can be a force for good
Tonkin stressed that politics can be used to influence those around you to do great things such as hiring those who need a job or buying computers for your team.
“Politics is how we get things done. When you know the game you can play along or get off the field. Playing along can be very useful if you want to get things working,” she said. “Politics gets a bad rap but it’s a tool. Just use it for good and not for evil!”

For further information on Cindy Tonkin's services click here.
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