Surviving Office Politics

Observe any kindergarten class. You’ll witness a startling range of politically motivated behavior. One kid is a whistle-blower, snitching to the teacher in hopes of winning favor. Another is a bully. He specializes in intimidating the best and the brightest into a kind of grade-school oppression.

Politics. It begins on the playground. It continues into adulthood, where it shows up again around the proverbial office water cooler. Office politics is nothing more than how people naturally jockey for place and position.

Should you ignore office politics?

You love your job and you’re great at it. Why not just ignore office politics and focus on the work that piles up on your desk each day? Why not just ignore the emotional undertow of the people who work alongside you?

Be forewarned: Ignoring office politics could be the quickest way to kill your career. It takes more than a modicum of emotional intelligence to succeed at work. Emotional intelligence, a term popularized by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, refers to how well you interact with people. Emotional intelligence has no relationship to cognitive intelligence, nor does it have any relationship to how well you perform abstract mental tasks, like the daily logistics of your job.

Emotional intelligence is a measure of how well you read the emotions of yourself and others and how well you subsequently navigate the social waters that daily wash through your workplace. Psychological studies consistently show that levels of emotional or social intelligence may be more closely correlated with career success than either grade point average or abstract intelligence. For this reason, it literally pays to heed office politics.
Office politics are ubiquitous. Your only defense is a well-thought-out offense.

Business Etiquette 101
Whenever groups of people interact with one another, there are bound to be politics. To stay socially afloat in the workplace you need to understand and invoke business etiquette. Etiquette helps you get along with your coworkers.

Improve your office relationships
Read these tips on improving your listening and communication skills, or take a quick online course in business etiquette.

Training to Improve Team Relations

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Courses and Training Products in Business Etiquette

Why bother making an extra effort to get along with your coworkers? Let me repeat a key point: People who get along well with others are the same people whose careers climb most reliably upward. A great many smart people have missed promotions because they didn’t pay attention to simple social graces.

Etiquette is an old-fashioned word. Its usefulness in our lives, however, is still quite contemporary. Most of the rules of etiquette boil down to a single, universal concept: respect. The rules of etiquette help us understand everyday ways to convey respect for ourselves and respect for others.

Business etiquette also means knowing what to do when you encounter inevitable instances of bad behavior at the office–behaviors such as gossiping and bullying.

Nine tips for avoiding political problems at work

Certain types of office politics are detrimental to the feelings of trust that make for a productive corporate culture. If you never learned about office etiquette in school, here’s a cheat sheet to get you started.

1. Gossip: Just say no
No one trusts a gossip. Managers are unlikely to entrust such people with the supervision of others. Gossiping is a great way to signal to your company that you’re not on a management track.

2. Praise: Always in short supply
If you use someone’s idea or work product, grant them lavish credit. Do it publicly. You’d hope for the same courtesy from them. On the other hand, if others use your accomplishments to promote themselves, speak up. Be polite. Thank them publicly for pushing your work to the forefront.

3. E-mail: It’s not your property
Here’s a sobering thought: Chances are 1 in 3 that your boss or someone above your boss is routinely screening your e-mail. Office e-mail is corporate property, not private property. You can’t reliably erase it. Passwords protect very little. Never write anything in an office e-mail that you would not want your boss and your mother to read out loud in tandem at the next departmental meeting.

4. Don’t burn bridges
Everyone gets angry. If you say something destructive to a coworker or a supervisor, go back the next day and apologize. It takes courage to apologize. Courage is admirable in any work environment.

Can’t we all just get along?
Improve your interpersonal skills and your job is going to get that much easier.

5. Personal problems–shhh!
Everyone has them. Spare your coworkers. Leave yours at home.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Be open. Be honest. Rumors feed on themselves in the absence of reliable information. If you are a supervisor, the best way to jam the office rumor mill is to communicate openly about changes in company policy and procedure. Even if you’re not a supervisor, communicating regularly with coworkers and higher-ups about what you’re working on is the key to preventing people from jumping to the wrong conclusion when, say, you need to miss a meeting.

7. Forego public shame and blame
It’s amazing how many otherwise smart people think that public humiliation is a good way to force employees or teammates into more productive work habits. People make mistakes. Never shame and blame coworkers in front of others if it can be avoided. Allow them to save face by taking them aside to discuss performance problems in private.

Motivation, communication, and respect
Keep the lines of communication open and everything runs so much more smoothly.

8. Talk to everyone
Cliques or private alliances form quickly within the honeycomb of cubicle walls. It’s okay to have a select group of people you talk to most often, but be careful not to close out others. More than one person has snubbed certain people in favor of belonging to the “in group” only to have management unexpectedly promote those they used to snub into positions of power.

9. To get along, you gotta go along?
“To get along, you have to go along,” a common saying in the corporate world, is not always the best advice. Never go along with destructive, disrespectful behavior in the workplace. Practice old-fashioned etiquette when it comes to everyday office politics. Your career can only benefit from a dose of common courtesy.

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