How to deal with office politics and come out on top

Found yourself embroiled in office politics one too many times and determined to ensure you don't get dragged into other folks' power plays in future?

Good luck with that, says workplace conflict specialist and UQ Business School associate professor Remi Ayoko. She believes politics are impossible to avoid in any contemporary organisation employing more than a handful of people.

"What we need to do is know when political issues are coming through and what we can do to guard ourselves," Ayoko says. "[You] can't stop other people playing it, so [you] need to get better at working out if you have to play it, and if you have to play it, you have to play it well."

Here are some tips for treading lightly through the minefield.

Read between the lines

Been suckered into pushing someone's personal agenda and only realised the fact belatedly? Time to wise up if you want to avoid reruns. "The first thing many people in an organisation will learn to do is read between the lines," Ayoko says.

"So if somebody around you is trying to play organisational politics, is this person doing it for the good of the organisation or is it self serving behaviour?

"If they're self serving…then you need to be very careful and that is when you say, 'ok, I don't want to be involved in this'. Give yourself permission to escape."

Set standards

Do you have a personal code of conduct or prefer to make up the 'rules' as you go along?

Setting standards of behaviour for yourself and being clear about your values and those of your employer make staying focused on the organisation's agenda a straightforward affair, according to Michelle Laforest, a senior executive at software vendor Wolters Kluwer.

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"Lead by example – model the appropriate behaviours with your team and with individuals," Laforest says.

"Often, that's not continuing discussion that might be gossip related or not appropriate to getting a positive outlook.

"Often in meetings, at the beginning, I'll remind everyone: 'what are our company values, what do we stand for?' And as we're making decisions, how do we make decisions that reflect those values? That positions people to think in a way that is correct to [achieve]the right outcome for the company, rather than individuals."

Build connections

Do you make a genuine effort to build connections with colleagues across your organisation? Networking without a specific agenda can help you form bonds that will stand you in good stead when complex issues arise, according to Merle Singer, principal of marketing consultancy COTW.

"If you understand a bit about a person…and the obstacles they face, you begin to engage with a lot more positives," Singer says.

"Beginning to build formal and informal relationships, without expecting anything from them but just person to person, is really important."

Manage upwards

Want to advance on merit, not as a result of political manoeuvring and machinations?

Make sure the folk upstairs are aware you're putting in the hard yards by keeping them informed about your achievements, Ayoko counsels.

"Manage upwards… if you've had accolades, like emails thanking you from clients, let your boss know so your boss is on the same page with how you're working," she says.
Don't gossip

Gossip isn't the same as office politics but it can be an unhealthy relation. Keeping your distance from those who make a practice of sharing idle chitchat or salacious stories about colleagues will reduce the likelihood of your being dragged into their dramas down the track, people management specialist Karen Gately says.

"If people bring gossip to us, have the courage to actually challenge it and say, 'it is only gossip'," she says. "Do it three or four times and people just realise you're not that much fun to gossip with."

Sidestepping social get-togethers with serial offenders can also be a sensible move, Gately adds. "Be warm, be friendly, be polite, say 'thank you for your invitation; unfortunately, I can't make it'," she says. "Maintain that level of professionalism and maturity and just excuse yourself."

Lobby the like-minded

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em – provided you do so for the right reasons. Lobbying like-minded colleagues can enable you to achieve outcomes for the greater good, according to Laforest.

"You have to accept that sometimes politics occurs but then work together to get the right result," she says.

"Understand that they are on the same page as you and get that buy-in to what the right decision might be before a broader group meet."

Are you always in thick of it, or have you learnt to navigate office politics without becoming embroiled? Share your experience in the comments.

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