Here’s why you can’t afford to ignore office politics

Office politics. Cliques. Hierarchies. Alignments. Can’t live with ’em, can’t do business without ‘em.

But what if you really, really don’t like dealing with office politics? Would it help to know that you’re not alone? Because you’re not; far from it.

Office politics is difficult and painful

Researchers Marian N. Ruderman and Patricia J. Ohlott recently discovered that many female managers feel that engaging in political behavior is difficult and painful. Some even viewed it as “evil”.

Evil may be a rather strong word, but my experience has been that most women find it hard to see how navigating office politics can be anything other than a negative experience. Not only is it unpleasant, but office politics can be a tough task to master.

According to a pre-workshop survey of 100 aspiring women leaders in hi-tech who attended my workshop in 2013, only 2% “strongly agreed” that they knew how to navigate office politics in a positive, effective way.

So we’ve established that if you don’t exactly jump out of bed every morning, excited to go to work and play the game of office politics, you aren’t alone. But here’s the thing: by ignoring office politics, you could be hurting your career in more ways than you can imagine.

Politically savvy people do better in their careers

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership showed that people who are politically savvy have better career prospects, better career trajectories, and are seen as more promotable. They are also less likely to succumb to career-limiting derailment.

An author and careers expert, Erin Burt notes, “Avoiding (office) politics altogether can be deadly for your career. Every workplace has an intricate system of power, and you can — and should — work it ethically to your best advantage.”

Any way you look at it, office politics are here to stay. But the good news is that there are ways to get better at it, and they’re probably a lot easier than you think.

You can learn to be positively politically savvy

So what can be done to make office politics more palatable and easier to navigate? The answer: build the skill of being positively politically savvy.

The authors of Political Skill at Work (Davies-Black, 2010), the result of over two decades of research into organizational politics, claim that political skill is not necessarily manipulative. “ … properly applied,” they say, “it makes good things happen, both for those who use it and for the organizations in which they work.” They identified four competencies of people who are positively political:

1. Social astuteness;
2. Interpersonal influence;
3. Networking ability;
4. Sincerity.

In other words, build your influencing and networking skills, and do it with sincerity – and positivity – to succeed. While you’re doing that, pay attention to the social dynamics that surround you at work, and you’ll build positive skills for navigating office politics, and as a bonus – become more promotable.

And that’s not evil at all, is it?!

Additional Resources:

• Ruderman, M.N. and Ohlott, P.J. (2002). Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
• Women and Political Savvy By Jean Brittain Leslie
and William A. Gentry, Ph.D. Center for Creative Leadership. October 2012.
• Political Skill at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness by Gerald R. Ferris, Sherry L. Davidson, Pamela L. Perrewt.

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