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Workplace Politics: How to prepare, What to Do and What to avoid!

Depending on who you ask; the word politics has quite a few different meanings. For some, it may be to “uphold the rights of the poor”, for others it may be about “serving the people”. But at the end of the day no matter what anyone says the essence of politics is power. The struggle for power, to be more specific. As I see more and more of my peers openly boasting with the now cliched phrase, “I hate politics”, I can not help but wonder how many people actually realize that this struggle for power or simply put, politics is something inescapable in human society. Intentionally and unintentionally we participate in some sort of politics almost every day. Whether it be our classrooms, tightly knit friend circle or even our family, politics seeps through them like water through a cracked ceiling.

The same goes for our workplaces. Wait… no, that would be an understatement. Given how vicious and cutthroat an office environment becomes as it can determine long term success and failure, it’s safe to say that the workplace is one of the more important places to be mindful of politics. So, whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, winning at office politics is always about the preparation. You may think of yourself to be charming, coy and smooth as butter but without the preparation, those qualities will get you nowhere.

How to Prepare?

No matter which organization you work at, preparing for its power struggle always starts with identifying the ‘BHAB’.

Confused? Let me explain…

B– Bias, H– Hierarchy, A– Allies, B– Bullies

Identifying the Bias: Sad but true that even in 2020 bias is still a pretty big component of human society. So undoubtedly it would be foolish to assume that workplaces will be exempt from it. Bias can be based on gender, skin color or social class. So the very first thing to do while approaching office politics is to identify the kind of bias that exists in the organization and how that bias affects you. If bias does exist, then to what degree? I suggest you ask these questions to yourself as the answers to these questions are as valuable as bullets on a battlefield.

Identifying the Hierarchy: If there is one thing I want you to remember before going into any organization is that, there is always, ALWAYS an unspoken hierarchy at play. Higher rank doesn’t necessarily translate into higher influence. You’ll find many cases where a manager may not be able to influence their team, as well as a specific member of the team, is able to. This is the hidden hierarchy at play. Certain individuals hold the capability to steer others, change opinions and influence even though their official rank shouldn’t allow them to. It is only when you climb this hierarchy, you are able to be successful in climbing the organizational hierarchy.

This segment of your preparation is the most crucial as it directly affects the next two steps. Make sure you understand the hierarchy well and know the players as much as possible.

Identifying Potential Allies: Obviously, after you’ve studied the hierarchy and its players the next logical step is to determine whose favor you want to win.

Ask yourself, which colleagues are the most similar-minded with you? Who do you want to create a bond with? Are they going to backstab you? Can you trust them? Is your superior going to help you learn and grow or is he going to take credit for your work? Carefully evaluate the answers to these questions as much as you can.

Identifying the Bullies: Yeah, let’s not beat around the bush about this. Every organization has bullies. They rely on cheap tactics and sometimes do borderline unethical things to sabotage someone’s work or coerce someone and take credit for their work. You have to identify these individuals early on so that you know who to steer clear of.

What to Do?

Alright now that you have assessed the structure and people in your office, I can promise you that the hard part is over. The biggest hurdle of winning at office politics is to properly understand the inner workings of the relationship employees have within the organization. And now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the actions you need to take to solidify your influence.

Build Trust and Comradery: It goes without saying, office politics is a people’s game. The more people you create lasting comradery with, gain their trust and give them yours the better. Now I’m obviously not telling you to let your guard down. But a healthy amount of trust won’t hurt. In fact, it’ll actually be more beneficial than you think.

So how do you build this trust and friendship?

In many ways actually. If you take a genuine interest in your colleagues, learn from them and share what you know to help them grow too, I can guarantee that you’ll have a meaningful comradery with most of your coworkers.

Keep Busy (Even if you’re not): A very good way to give someone the ammunition to accuse you of laziness and dismiss your efforts is to seem less busy than others. I don’t care whether you’re a super genius who works efficiently and effectively to finish work before the deadline because most of the people in your office don’t care either. It’s not a question of how good you are at your job if people see you being less busy than them it immediately invokes a negative reaction in them. It leads to gossip and eventually it gets so out of hand that even when you deliver perfectly on your work your superiors harbor a negative impression of you.

Toot Your Own Horn (Tastefully): Because no one else is gonna do it!

There is a saying, “Your work will speak for itself”. Which is true, to a certain extent. But in the wilderness that is the modern office space, the glorious sounds of your achievement can easily get drowned out by the incessant noise of gossip, favoritism, and bias. So, it’s up to you to make sure that your efforts and accomplishments are being heard.

You can do this by casually mentioning the work that you completed that week during an interaction with your superior. Or highlight the unique contribution you made in a team task (while giving others their due credit of course).

What to Avoid?

No matter how much of a hard worker you are and how much you are liked by everyone, there are a few things that can bring you down almost instantly.

Dishing Dirt: Never gossip. Never! One sure-fire way to lose respect in the office is to give in to gossiping. You might be thinking that you’re bonding with the person by talking ill about someone but what you are actually doing is giving them a reason to not trust you.

Because if you’re talking bad about someone to them, who says you won’t talk bad about them to someone else?

The “Informal” Trap: Never make the mistake of thinking it’s possible to be in an informal situation with colleagues. Many people make the mistake of letting their guard down by thinking of an out of office gathering as an informal situation. The problem with this is if you make a mistake, or say something even jokingly chances are they are not going to be taken informally. Even a slight mistake can destroy the reputation or influence you’ve built so far. So it’s better to avoid the “informal” trap altogether.

Antagonizing: Don’t antagonize anyone. At least not openly. Not your competitors, not an unreasonable boss or even the office bullies. I know it might be tempting to tell off the office bully or being sarcastic to the unreasonably boss but the satisfaction of it is not worth the repercussions. Things in the office should always be dealt with through smiles and handshakes.

I know what you’re thinking… office politics can seem pretty daunting. But at the end of the day, it’s all about understanding people. The better you assess the situation and the people, the better your chances of winning at the office become.

Author: Touseef Salam |Studying at Mawlana Bhashani Science & Technology University, Bangladesh.

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