Managers don’t want to engage in it and employees hate it.
Unfortunately, office politics can’t be avoided.
The good thing is, many workers realize engaging in office politics on some level is an important part of getting ahead.
A survey released this week by staffing firm Robert Half found that 56 percent of employees believe being involved in office politics is necessary to get ahead in your career, compared to 42 percent who said it wasn’t necessary, and 2 percent who don’t know either way.
"There is some degree of politics at play in virtually every organization," said Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half International and author of “Managing Your Career For Dummies.” "The savviest professionals practice workplace diplomacy. They remain attuned to political undercurrents but don't allow themselves to get pulled into situations that could compromise their working relationships or reputation."
Becoming attuned to office politics, however, is easier said than done.
“The problem with office politics is that it’s not a science,” maintained Margaret Morford, author of “The Hidden Language of Business – Workplace Politics, Power & Influence.” “It’s very much an art.”
While not engaging in the political goings on at work can hamper your career, she said, making the wrong political maneuvers could kill it.
There are employees who appear to be great at office politics on the surface because they are good manipulators and have no qualms about stepping on people as the climb the ladder of success, she explained. But, she added, that approach creates a lot of enemies and those individuals don’t tend to stay on the ladder.
The same holds true for suck ups, she stressed. “It doesn’t work long term.”
It’s not just the rank and file that must play the political games.
Managers often try to stay out of the political fray when it involves their underlings, but that’s also a dumb idea, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review by the coauthors of “Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader.”
The authors, Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback, write:
“Unless you reach out, engage others, and create active, ongoing relationships — relationships you sustain even when there's no immediate problem — you will lack the ability to exercise influence beyond your group. And even in your own world, your influence will be limited. If you've ever worked for a boss who lacked any organizational clout or credibility, you know how frustrating that is.”
For those of you who are frustrated just thinking about how to engage in office politics, Morford has some basic advice: Listen more than you talk, and study what’s going on around you, especially when you start out at an organization.
Also, beware of the people that want to give you the lay of the land when you take a job. “Don’t accept the first opinion you get on what’s going on,” she advised, adding that sometimes you get the outlier who doesn’t have a clue on the political environment at an organization.
If you’re still learning the culture or any company, she continued, the best approach is not to challenge coworkers or manager in front of audience, but wait for a private moment and don’t ever say, “you’re wrong.”
There are three ways people end up stalling in their careers or getting fired, said Morford, when it comes to political missteps:
1. You’re organization changed direction and they haven’t figured it out or gotten on board.
2. You’ve run afoul of someone who is powerful.
3. You haven’t built a wide enough network to support you when you make a mistake.
Be sure, she stressed, “to walk softly until you figure it out.”