The positive side of office politics

Networking and politicking are part of your job

Never make enemies on the way up. You'll meet them again on the way down.

The above quote comes from an article on the game of office politics at Even people who claim not to be interested in office politics have probably unwittingly been caught up in them at some stage in their career and those who are good at playing the office politics game can find their careers take off.

A Fast Company article by Michael Warshaw looked at three employees who gained influence far beyond what their jobs would normally grant them (and made changes that were good for their companies) because they knew how to play office politics.

Warshaw says the term might conjure up images of people who don’t have the ability to move ahead on their on merit and who “pursue their own agenda regardless of what's good for their colleagues or the company”. But he says people shouldn’t be cynical about office politics; some people really do have more than their own interests at heart.

Warshaw has several rules for office politics. The first is that nobody wins unless everybody wins. In other words it’s how you position your ideas that makes a difference — make sure it’s one where “your victory is everyone's victory”.

He quotes the case of a Xerox middle manager, Cindy Casselman, who launched WebBoard, an intranet site which resulted in improved communications at the company. Whenever she addressed anyone on the project she emphasised “the benefits that would accrue to whatever audience she was addressing at the time”.

Warshaw says you should also remember that everyone expects to be paid back. “What is the most precious currency of organisational life? On this question, all the experts agree: personal relationships.”

But generally, says Warshaw, people will want to do the right thing and leave a mark.

Another rule is that success can create opposition, so you’ll have to be prepared for “cutting the deals, big and small, that turn your goal into a reality — and reckoning with the resistance that any campaign generates.”

At Xerox, Casselman “began to ruffle feathers”. She reacted by reaching a compromise, agreeing to conduct a 30-day trial before the WebBoard's public debut.

So, politics doesn’t have to be about negative behaviour. In fact a article by Marty Nemko says practising positive politics can shield you from the nastier stuff. Ask respected “higher-ups” for counsel periodically.

“Encourage them to think of you as a protégé, and they're more likely to defend you when you need it.”

Nemko also recommends performing deliberate acts of kindness (for example, working late to help a colleague on a deadline) and doing visible, important tasks.

“If such tasks aren't in your job description, ask if you can take one on. Be sure everyone knows you did the work.”

He says you should keep your antennae out for anyone who wants to make you look bad. Key questions include whether you’re in the information loop. If you’re not, who is behind it and is there someone who disagrees with you at meetings?

If you do decide you’re being sabotaged, try strategies such as getting feedback from a supporter or responding with strength (perhaps with humour). Or you could quietly confront the backstabber and “inoculate” yourself by telling other people your concerns.

“Chances are, though, if you play positive politics, you'll never have to go into attack mode.”

The article quoted at the beginning of this column advises that whatever you do you should “keep it professional at all times” and accept office politics is a reality.

"Networking and politicking are not distractions — they're part of the job. Do it in a professional way. Apply the same ethics and hard work to that part of your job."

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