Office politics for people who hate politics

| March 14, 2014
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Stuck moment: Oh, man, I hate the politics in this office. People spend so much time plotting to get ahead, while making the rest of us — who actually do the work — look bad. It’s demoralizing. Why can’t the work speak for itself?

This is the common cry of the political-avoider, who probably lives in most of us. We don’t have a hidden agenda. We do have enough confidence to cheer others’ successes. And we possess little-to-no finesse when it comes to dealing with the dastardly.

Yes, the dastardly. They do exist. Usually not to the extent of Frank Underwood on House of Cards, but there are some fiercely insecure people in the workplace who think the best way to get ahead is at the expense of others.

Far less acknowledged is a third player in the office’s political arena. One who gives politics a positive spin. These workplace heroes navigate the office on the credo of trust, respect, and approachability. Their goal is to foster healthy relationships. To stay informed. To provide the necessary give-and-take that all organizations need to achieve their goals.

Adopting this strategy can transform a stymied political-avoider into a forward-moving professional, no backstabbing required.

What it means to play positive politics
The objective of the positive political player is to manage relationships to get the job done. That means our work depends on our relationships at the office. The better they are, the better our work.

The effectiveness of positive politicians starts with their beliefs about working within an organization.

• They believe the essence of an organization is people.
• They believe work relationships should promote the good of the company, not necessarily their career.
• They believe in building a strategic network to keep track of what’s going on.
• They believe in building relationships with people with different skills and attitudes.
• They believe in mutual advantage and long-term gratification.

As a result, positive politicians:
• Build relationships as a requirement of their job.
• Focus their agenda on company goals.
• Make sound decisions that take into account a larger context of the workplace.
• Get the help they need when they ask for it.
• Nurture loyalty by helping others without expecting an instant payoff.

Become a player
Where we political-avoiders can go astray is:

1. We assume our work will speak for itself.
2. We avoid people who appear to operate on the shady side.

We miss the opportunity to share our plans and accomplishments — and to learn about others’. And we miss the opportunity to build a wider base of support that we can call on when necessary. Sounds kind of lonely, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be.

Relationships are at the core of positive politics beliefs and actions. The single best thing we can do for ourselves at work is to improve our interactions. We want to build respect. We want people to seek us out and find us willing to help and share. We want people’s trust — even if they aren’t so trustworthy themselves. (It’s a good way to deal with the dastardly.)

The first step is to honestly assess: How do my coworkers see me? Answer the 12 questions on our “How to Play Positive Politics” worksheet (there are no wrong responses). Then match your answers to the explanations on page 2 (no looking ahead), and you’ll likely discover that what you believe doesn’t always match with what your colleagues experience.

Guess what: Those gaps are the good stuff. They give us areas to focus on as we improve our work relationships. And it’s not all on you to figure out how. Take cues from a coworker whose political skills you admire. Maybe invite your coworker for coffee. Even bolder, ask for mentoring on your work-relationship skills (before you do, read The Art of Asking for Help). If coffee or mentoring seems unlikely, you’ll find loads of tips in Your Guide to Good Work Relationships.

PRINTABLE WORKSHEET: How to start playing positive politics

Next week: An expert’s guide being a beginner
Last week: How to deal with disrespect: 9 true stories

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