Navigating Corporate Politics: A Survivor’s Guide (Part 1)

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a typewriter with the word "Diplomacy" types on a piece of paper.

Office politics.

They can be enough to have most seasoned professionals reach for the straight jacket and call it a day.

People want to be recognized for how well they do their work and their achievements, not how well they get along with—or appease—the boss.

At the end of the day, we are in business, and results are the only thing that should matter. Right?

In an ideal world, perhaps. But we are dealing with hairless apes we call Homo sapiens that have a lot of evolving left to do, and we know interactions between people are never that easy.

The phrase office politics might make you think of a corporate version of Game of Thrones with murky relationships, half-truths, and hidden motivations. The good news is that outside of the most toxic office environments, office politics can usually be managed. (Granted, the higher up you go, the more challenging the politics become because the stakes—and egos—tend to be a lot larger.)

But, like the Pathfinder, we are not looking for just survival; we want to find a way to thrive and create a positive culture of growth.

Here are some thoughts.

Reframe Politics to Diplomacy

While politics tends to be a zero-sum game (I win, you lose), looking at the work situation as a diplomat provides a better mental framework.

A diplomat seeks first to understand the other side. Then, with that understanding, works to develop a win-win solution (where possible). Working hard to understand where other people are coming from always provides good insight—even if the outcome is not 100% of what you wanted.

Develop Strong Relationships

There is a great show on Netflix starring Kerri Russell called The Diplomat.

Russell’s character, Kate Wyler, is the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. She makes the case that in international intrigue, sometimes the difference between disaster and cooling down a hot situation is a strong personal relationship that has been formed over the years.

That’s a lesson for all of us when working to survive office politics. The right phone call to the right colleague can often make all the difference—if the relationship is there.

Distinguish Between Office Politics and Horrible Behavior

If a person is being a jerk, they are being a jerk. That’s not office politics. At best, that’s a personality conflict. At worst, that’s someone with a personality problem.

There is no hard and fast line between office politics, personality conflicts, or a personality problem.

A simple way to think about it: if their behavior violates the employee handbook, basic human decency, or accepted professional ethics—you are dealing with a personality problem.

If you have a different style than the other individual, you can’t seem to agree on the basics and don’t understand each other—that’s likely a personality conflict.

Office politics are when you want to have the right people to agree with you on an idea, promotion, product, strategic direction, etc.

Being clear on what we are dealing with—office politics, personality conflict, or personality issues—gives us more room to ask questions that can provide insight into how to deal with the situation properly. Each requires a different response.

While understanding each as separate is key, we also acknowledge that all three can be interacting at the same time. That’s why they call it work.

Know What You Can Control

For successful business people, this can be hard. You must admit that you often have zero control over some people or situations. Similarly, you must own that you have more influence in some areas than you admit.

The trick is to figure out which is which. Then, you can invest time in the areas where you have influence/control and work to let go of those areas you don’t. Or, figure out ways to get influence in the areas where you currently have none.

Get a Coach or Mentor

We are often too close to a situation to see it clearly. Talking it through with a trusted advisor outside of the organization who can ask insightful questions and challenge our assumptions helps provide clarity.

While it is often very helpful to turn to colleagues to discuss these issues, they are often too close and can miss blind spots that an outsider will notice and bring to your attention.

We often turn to our significant other as a sounding board for advice, which is excellent, and we strongly support this. However, those close relationships also come with bias (and sometimes, baggage).

Talking to a former colleague, a mentor, a paid executive coach, etc., can really make a difference in helping develop successful strategies to navigate your particular office issues.

Well, that’s a start on office politics. We are sure this could be a book, but we are just doing two parts. Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion to Navigating Corporate Politics: A Survivor’s Guide.

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