Ten Ways To Win At Office Politics

A young job applicant once told me that she quit her previous job because she couldn’t stand office politics. She was looking for a company where only her merits would matter. I bluntly told her that it is not possible to guarantee such an ideal situation.
The problem is that there is virtually no workplace without politics. While you can attempt to minimize office politics by having policies that reward productivity more, there are many cases where credit or blame is hard to establish, as in the case of group efforts.
Since office politics is inescapable, you can either start your own business, or learn how to deal with it in a manner that will be acceptable to your moral standards. It is often said that there are many ways to skin a cat. This is true in office politics; there are many ways to gain an advantage in the workplace, but some of the ways may not be palatable to you. So as not to be caught flat-footed or drift into moral degradation, you must have a battle plan prepared:
Study the political environment in your office. Your company’s organizational chart does not tell the entire story of who has the most influence or power. Study the various cliques. Learn who the informal leaders are, and who are friends or hostile to each other. People with lowly positions may have the ear of a VIP. You must know such things if you are to plan your moves, so always be in touch with the grapevine.
Learn how to be assertive. People respect those who have guts. Office bullies naturally pick on wimps and are wary of abusing those who will resist. You will gain more allies and deter enemies if you are more assertive. Be careful of overdoing this though, as too much aggressiveness is undesirable.
Expand your internal network. Even if you are currently with the winning side, it would be prudent if you also have ties with others not in your group. Circumstances may change and even if highly unlikely, it may happen that your allies will decline in influence. It also helps that you get information from a wider network.
Let your accomplishments be known. Many people find it distasteful to publicize their activities. Unfortunately, your boss is not a mind reader, nor does he or she have photographic memory. Besides looking for ways to make your output more visible, it would be wise to document these whenever possible so that they would not be forgotten.
Build a support base. Quid pro quo—meaning “this for that” in Latin—has always been the norm in human relationships. If you have been nice to someone, then that person is more likely to support you. However, the time to do this is long before you ask for a favor.
Be great at your job. Despite the prevalence of office politics, personal productivity still carries a great weight. It is much harder to pin you down if you have an outstanding record. Besides this, most managers have a very strong bias for highly productive personnel since they are critical to achieving their own objectives.
Watch your back. Be aware that some people will do anything to get what they want, even to the point of committing immoral acts. Do not allow yourself to get into a situation where you can be sabotaged. Have a healthy sense of paranoia; begin by securing your computer with a password. Also, make back-ups of all your files and store them in a secure place.
Be loyal to your boss. There is a strong tendency to be more loyal to your co-workers, but unless you value their companionship more than your career, you should cater more to your boss.
Watch your tongue. Be careful that what you are saying will not haunt you in the future. Frank remarks made in confidence have a tendency to be exaggerated as they are passed around. Remember that what you say may be held against you later on.
Cool down before you react. In the heat of the fight, it is difficult to decide rationally. Before embarking on a self-destructive response to a provocation, better sleep it over first. Sometimes the best course of action is to bide your time.
Even those who hate office politics must be prepared to handle this reality. It would be a terrible waste if deserving talent and hard work is negated by ignorance on managing this aspect of your work life. Only by knowing how the game is played can you level the playing field and give your merits a better chance to shine.
*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. C-4, Sunday, May 12, 2013. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.