After an election year filled with more twists, turns, and uncertainty than an award-winning suspense film, the last thing you probably want to think about is politics. But even if you’re exhausted by the national political scene, there’s a different type of politics that you absolutely should be paying attention to.
Anytime a group of people comes together, differences of opinion, emotions, and desires can all impact the way everyone interacts with one another. This is especially true when you add in an element of power, like the chain of command that typically exists within an office.
Juggling what others want with what is best for you and your work can be difficult. You value your job, but you also value your own beliefs and decision-making skills.
Why office politics can be messy
The struggle that comes from navigating office politics can be a breeding ground for negativity. If not managed properly, office politics can create resentment for employers or employees who dictate that certain parameters must be met in order to not upset the status quo.
1. Know where you fit in
When it comes to responding to the toils of office politics, understanding where you fit into the big picture at your office, or within the overall matrix of your office’s politics is important.
Are you at the top of the food chain, or closer to the bottom? Are you well-respected by your coworkers, or are people less apt to listen to your concerns? Have you been working with the same set of people for years, or are you the new kid in town?
Knowing where you fit in is especially important if you’ve just stared a new position. Getting the lay of the land can help you understand exactly what’s at play when it comes to understanding how you fit in. Look at who eats lunch together, which team members tend to group themselves together for projects, who tends to gossip, and who is more tight-lipped.
Take a look at who generally leads the charge, who is “in the know,” and who resists the status quo. Knowing who’s who and where you fall on the spectrum of engaging in the trials of office politics can help you to avoid getting too caught up in any tangled webs to begin with.
2. Communication is key
Because everyone has different communication styles, an office environment can often feel like a minefield. You may feel hesitant to speak up if your company culture doesn’t value open and honest communication, or you could feel inundated when too many people offer their opinion in the workplace.
Either way, mastering good communication in the office is key to navigating office politics.
First and foremost, be a good listener. Be open to receiving the ideas and feedback that others provide. Gather information and think through your reactions to the wishes and decisions of others before launching into a response. Especially when responding to superiors, this will help you effectively communicate without upsetting the balance of power at play in office politics.
Additionally, learning how to successfully communicate with everyone in the office is key to avoiding drama. Although it’s not necessary to be best friends with every single one of your coworkers, it’s important to brush up on different communication styles and be aware of how your coworkers interact.
3. Think win-win
Once you get caught up in office politics, it’s hard to break out. Instead of dropping an uncomfortable conversation like a hot potato, try to brainstorm ways to smooth things over.
One way to approach a sticky situation is to come up with possible solutions that provide at least a partial positive outcome for all parties involved. Even if you aren’t in a position of power, it’s ok to suggest solutions to office issues that you’re involved in that could help resolve the problem.
The goal here is not to choose sides and pick a “winner,” but to think outside of the box and come up with a way for everyone to at least feel like they are winning in some way.
In fact, it’s important to not choose sides. Just because others may team up to play sides doesn’t mean that you have to. It is possible to be cordial with everyone whether you agree with them or not, and often this can be a successful strategy to navigating office politics.
4. Show respect
Disagreements among coworkers can spring up easily. Whether it’s over important project details or the temperature of the thermostat, these disagreements can lead to lines in the sand being drawn, putting office politics squarely into play.
Being respectful of your coworkers is a crucial element of navigating office politics. You can respect their ideas and thoughts even if you disagree with them. Instead of arguing your side of an issue, approach conversations from a place of respect for a difference of opinion.
It’s also helpful to consider your company’s core values and how your reaction might fit that narrative. If your company leadership values respect for new ideas, collaboration, and clear communication, it’s a good idea to keep those values in mind when dealing with your coworkers — especially when you disagree.
5. Maintain boundaries
It is pretty much impossible to stay out of office politics. Even when your intentions are good and you just want to avoid the potential drama, the things that go on around you in the office will eventually impact you.
While understanding how to compromise with others is an important part of achieving workplace success, it’s also imperative to maintain boundaries at work. However, there may be certain elements of office politics that you just will not get into, and that’s ok.
If you refuse to get caught up in gossip about other team members, let that be known in a respectful way. When your coworkers take their criticism of your boss to a level you’re not comfortable with, you can set a boundary there too.
The main thing to keep in mind is that maintaining boundaries in the workplace is a healthy thing to do in order to keep an office running smoothly. You can stay focused, productive, and navigate office politics with ease.