Friday, September 16, 2016

Mastering Office Politics by Max Busch

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I’ve always hated office politics. It was hard for me. It felt slimy and selfish. And that was confirmed when a colleague told me, “C’mon May, it’s just a game you have to play.” Well, I didn’t want to “play games” to get ahead and resisted it with every fiber of my body. I was going to do things “straight up” and in an above board way.
I remember calling home after my first couple of years at work (it took a while before I even noticed that politics existed, that’s how far behind I was!). My father answered the phone, and the conversation went like this.
“Dad, I hate the office politics. I’m no good at it. I wish I had gone into academia like you where it’s about your ideas and knowledge, not how good you are at navigating the politics.”
I hear my Dad chuckling on the other end of the phone line as he says, “May, there are more politics in academia than there are in business. What you’re facing is nothing compared to that, so you’re in the right place.”
What do we mean by “politics” and why do we hate it?
As he went on to explain that politics is just about interpersonal relationships, my mother got on the line too and added, “Don’t worry May. Politics is just what happens whenever there are two or more people. It’s just normal.”
That definition of politics from my parents has stayed with me to this day: politics is about human relationships and it occurs naturally whenever there are two or more people involved. It’s present wherever people are involved, whether that’s in the office, at the highest levels of government, or on the school playground.
Yet we hate office politics. After all, human interactions are messy and hard to control. It takes time and effort to figure out the best way forward. And when we get it wrong, office politics can stop us from getting what we want.
Why it’s important
In reality, taking the time upfront to think through the politics of the situation vastly improves your chances of creating successful outcomes for yourself and everyone else involved.  
And it saves time in the long run because you’ll be more effective in accomplishing your goals, and you’ll have less “mopping up” to do after the fact.
Plus it helps you move ahead in your career, get your projects green lighted, and get you and your team promoted.
On the other hand, not learning to navigate the politics is like not looking both ways before you cross the street. You – or your ideas and initiatives – could get seriously hurt or even killed.
The good news is you can learn to be good at it.
You can master it
If even I could do this starting from square one, which is not realizing politics even existed, then you can too. So stop worrying, and keep going. You can do this.
In fact, like anything else you master, once you get the hang of it and practice it many, many times, it can become second nature to you. You will even start enjoying it because it is the way that clears the path for your ideas and proposals to blossom, and get the recognition, pay and promotion you deserve.
To make you feel even better about mastering this, I’ll bet you already have some experience and expertise to fall back on. Think back to your childhood or even your current family situation. Didn’t you know which parent or family member was easier on a particular issue than another? Or how to get your best friends to agree to something? Or how to either wind up your siblings or get them onside?
Well, it’s the same set of skills that most of us had as children, only the stakes are a little higher. 
Basic building blocks
Getting good at navigating the politics requires just a handful of basic skills, all of which you can develop.
Basic ingredients that are helpful
1.    Being observant. Noticing what’s going on in the human interactions around you, and being able to read peoples’ expressions and reactions to the situation.
2.    Being able to think and analyze. This means taking the data or information from you observations and being able to think critically about it so you can make sense of the situation and see the cleanest way forward.
3.    Being able to self-manage. When you’re in the midst of navigating the politics, this means not taking things personally, and not letting others upset you.
4.    Being end results oriented. Taking a pragmatic view of what needs to be done in order to achieve the end goal and not getting too hung up about how things “should” be and whether life is fair and equitable. Read more about other ways to be end results oriented here.
5.   Having positive intent. This is about using your powers of navigating the politics for good and not evil, and therefore an energizing skill to have. When you come into it with a positive intent, you are using your abilities to get good things done, not to put someone else down or get away with something.
Things that are harmful to navigating the politics
Just as there are helpful ingredients to have, there are also things that are harmful to your success.
1.    Being judgmental. Being judgmental means measuring others against your yardstick and criticizing them for falling short. But not everyone has the same worldview, and taking a judgmental stance hurts your effectiveness.
2.    Being isolated. It’s hard to be good at navigating the politics when you act completely on your own. It takes having a network of support and relationships to be successful.
3.    Taking things personally. This clouds your judgment and harms your ability to react effectively in the moment.
A career “superpower”
I think of navigating the politics as a career “superpower” that keeps you from stepping into minefields without realizing, and maximizes your chances of creating successful outcomes for everyone involved.
It is a skill worth developing. And by consistently applying the principles in the Building Blocks, you can help yourself get to the next level of your career faster and more easily. All you have to do is begin.

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