For too long office politics has been thought of as a manipulating device. Instead, recognize office politics as a communication tool that will help you effectively adapt. You should definitely secure a copy of Office Politics: Seizing Power, Wielding Clout by Marilyn Moats Kennedy, the guru of office politics. In this book she recommends you prepare a rough organization chart where you work.
Office politics exists everywhere: churches and temples, colleges and universities, corporate giants and small firms, and, of course government at all levels. That subject can make or break relationships, and oftentimes, can be the difference between promotion and more responsibility than failure. People do not understand the importance of office politics as a communication tool, unless, perhaps, they have been raised in a large family. Getting along with siblings can be quite challenging. Sometimes office politics is as simple as patting someone on the back when that person has done outstanding work.
Color the people red who are against you in the organization. They are malevolent people who do everything but harm you. They may harm you through e-mail or memos. They will do nothing to speak up on your behalf. They do not want you to succeed in the organization. These are the reds.
Color the people green who are not sure about you in the organization. They don't know you well. They are hesitant to say anything, because, for the most part, they are neutral toward you. Advice from Kennedy: work on the greens the rest of your life in the organization. Then, you will have the blues and the greens on your side when the chips are down.
Lancaster argues that smaller units will just let you do your job. Politics are minimized, and conflicts and crises are openly discussed at meetings. You worry less about what so-and-so said. It can be argued that smaller companies or organizations have the politics of relatives. If you are not a member of the in-family, you may find your politics in need of repair.
I particularly liked this Lancaster point. Do what you are good at and enjoy. It makes for a healthier human being to realize Abraham Lincoln's adage about pleasing some of the people some of the time.
Lancaster certainly said a mouthful. You should, as Marilyn Moats Kennedy has said, work on the greens or the people who are neutral toward you in the organization. When push comes to shove in office politics, you will have people who can feed you information and understand the grapevine for you. Dee Soder, managing partner of CEO Perspectives, believes someone will then stand up for you.
Lancaster suggests that what you do on the outside will be heard about through your company. You represent your company to the larger community. If you speak or write, you are bringing credit to your company. If you participate in civic affairs, you are showing you care about the greater community. We all need to do something outside of our working lives. Work cannot be all consuming. That may lead to burnout.
People should know where they stand with you. However, I would caution to read people rather carefully. They may say one thing and do something entirely opposite. Robert L. Dilenschneider, a veteran public relations consultant and author of The Critical 14 Years of Your Professional Life, believes we should tell these backstabbers to cease their activity: "If you ignore it, it festers." I would opt for telling them diplomatically, especially if they have control over your future.
Hal Lancaster in an issue of The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 1997, offered advice on building mentoring relationships. The advice is intended for women, but the ideas may also work for some men:
Mr. Lancaster likes the term, learning partner. We can learn from people older and younger than us. According to Lancaster, you should select a mentor who can help you with specific concerns, such as conflict resolution. Select people based on their knowledge.
Sometimes, you may want a female mentor. Sometimes, you may prefer a male. Mentors may come from all walks of society, including professional organizations, alumni groups, community groups, and women's forums.
Find someone who is different from you. Look for differences. Don't always be comfortable with the mentor you have chosen.
Find out the outside interests of this mentor. Maybe the two of you like some form of music. Maybe you like jogging. You may offer a view the mentor does not possess.
Approach your prospective mentor slowly. I need some help in marketing segmentation. I need to improve my networking skills. Don't be a pest to the mentor. Know when to leave. You can learn a great deal by listening closely to your mentor.
Let's talk about some points people forget when practicing office politics. Never make friends with anyone for the first six months on the job. Check the lay of the land and be friendly with everyone, friend and foe alike in the company. See where the power bases are built. Become totally observant during those first six months. See who goes out to lunch with whom.
Think about the myths as Marilyn Moats Kennedy discusses them. Here is one myth: If you work hard, you will get ahead in the company. That myth should work, but it often does not. People notice individuals who are good team players, not necessarily hard workers. I am not advocating you don't work hard at your job. Don't do, however, as one Japanese securities dealer did recently. He worked solidly for two weeks and died on the job. That is the epitome of not thinking about one's own life and owing everything to the firm.
You have to temper work with getting to know people. Spend some time on what we may call missionary work. Work out of your office and socialize to a limited extent with other people in the department. Get to know people's thinking. Spend a great deal of time listening. Never forget you are there in the organization to make a good impression, either at meetings or in the hallways. People want to trust you.
It would probably pay to examine some of the previous truisms. Bush would urge you in politics to take every picture and shake every hand. That is, don't forget your constituencies: your customers, clients, and colleagues. When you stay focused, you don't use a scattershot approach. The target is always in sight.
Last updated Wednesday, May 24, 2006
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