Episode 75

CAREER:

How to survive corporate politics with grace and integrity

Dealing with politics is a necessary evil no matter where you work and at their worst can be so complicated that they can drive you out of a company or stand in the way of great work going out the door. In this episode, we will look at some of the emotional issues behind office politics and talk about the 8 habits that you can use to be able to survive them with grace and integrity.


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How are you able to accomplish what you want inside of your company when things can be so complicated with so many people – and worse office politics standing in the way. Dealing with politics is a necessary evil no matter what you think about them. This is another one of critical topics that when I started to do some research I found few articles on the subject that were any help. Politics are a dynamic problem that can be unique to each company. So with that in mind in this episode we are going to look at some of the emotional issues behind office politics and talk about how to deal with them in terms of habits instead of actions or lists which I find just don’t work broadly.

Power.

For too many people office politics is all about one word – power. Power implies that this is a game and that there is a way to win.Nothing could be further from the truth because a game has an ending and someone wins. There is no way to win business or office politics. So this underlying thinking that we should be playing for power if just fundamentally flawed.

You have a choice.

But since so many people play like it is a game then the consequences can be damaging and hurtful. The most common reactions to this is either fight or flight. Fighting will only cause more resistance to and drama round whatever you are trying to achieve. Flight will only label you as a pushover that people can easily take for granted. Neither one of these options are appealing and neither are good for career growth. You have to consciously choose your reactions to the situation.

This is not something I am very good at as I get hurt or offended too often and try to do my best with it but know I could handle it much better. Remember that no matter how bad the circumstances, you have a choice in how you feel and react. Reflect on your emotions, what prompts them, and how you handle them. If you can learn to self-regulate, you’ll be able to think before you act. This kind of emotional intelligence helps you to pick up on other people’s emotions, too, and to understand what kind of approach they like or dislike.

Listen to episode 70 for more on emotional intelligence.

Analyze the “real” org chart

Office politics often short circuits the organizational structure we all see on paper. One of the first things I do is to sit back and watch people because it can tell you a lot about what is really going on. What you will see if that power rarely flows in lines through a company that follow their org chart. Companies will have hard and soft power lines that tun through them but one is usually more dominant.

Hard power
• Org chart power hierarchy
• Based on titles, having an office and year of experience

You can spot hard power organizations
• Teams refer to people by their title not by their name
• Physical displays of power are important like having an office while everyone else has cubes

Soft power
• Relationship and trust hierarchy
• Based on what people can do, who’s ear they have and what they can influence.

You can spot soft power organizations
• Decisions are made by a few people and their power does not correlate to their title or position in the company

Habits

With that as a foundation to your thinking and to how power flows through your company here are some of the habits I think will serve you well.

Build connections

In this new age of needing to be more inclusive in the way you work as a creative you are going to need to build your connections. This is one of the things that I see agency creative struggle with the most when they come onto an in-house team. They still think they can either do whatever they want or that they don’t need to include other people or teams in the process. Look beyond your immediate team, and cross the formal hierarchy in all directions – co-workers, managers and executives. Don’t be afraid of politically powerful people. Instead, get to know them, and build high-quality connections that avoid empty flattery. Be friendly with everyone, but avoid aligning yourself too closely with one group or another.

Develop your people skills

Politics are all about people, so strong interpersonal skills will help you build and maintain a good network.

Communication skills

Manage differences
You’ll likely encounter conflict, or at least differences that seem hard to reconcile, at some point in your working life. Unresolved conflict can be damaging and disruptive, and often affects morale and productivity. It can result in personal animosity, making people feel as if they have to “take sides,” disengage from the team, or even leave the organization.

Manage agreement
The first step is to use your interpersonal skills to establish trust. Trust enables you to be more effective, to take worthwhile risks, and to feel secure. You can discover useful strategies for working with your co-workers, clients and suppliers in our article,

Maintaining your personal integrity
Your integrity – your ability to stand up for what you believe in – is central to your interpersonal skills. Integrity enables you to measure your choices and decisions when dealing with others against the benchmark of your personal values.

Listen
When you invest time in listening, you’ll slow down, focus, and learn. And, people like people who listen to them!

Your circle of power

There are often things you will have little control over like corporate policies, client demands or boss mandates that are done out of politics and can influence you and your work. A lot of people, including myself more than I would like as I look back over my career, bitch and complain about these events that we cannot control.

But when you step back and think about it, you get a short term emotional outlet, but then what tangible results do bitching really accomplish? In most instances, none. Instead of feeling victimized and angry about the situation, focus on the things that you can do to influence the situation – your circle of influence and power. It helps overcome the feeling of helplessness, removes the victimized feeling and allows others to see you as someone who knows how to operate within given constraints. You may not be able to change the eventual outcome, but you can walk away knowing that you have done the best you could and didn’t let the bad decisions of others make you bad too.

Don’t get personal

In office politics, you’ll get angry with people. It happens. There will be times when you feel the urge to give that person a piece of your mind and teach him a lesson. Don’t. People tend to remember moments when they were humiliated or insulted. Even if you win this argument, or even make a decision to get the business result you may feel good about it for now, but you’ll pay the price later when you need help from this person down the road. Like I said before you need to build a network and the last thing you want is to have someone screw you up because they have anger towards you – all because you’d enjoyed a brief moment of emotional outburst at their expense.

Focus on the business

When conflicts happens, it’s very easy to be sucked into tunnel-vision and focus on immediate differences. That’s a self-defeating approach. Chances are you’ll only invite more resistance by focusing on differences in people’s positions or opinions. The way to mitigate this without looking like you’re fighting to emerge as a winner in this conflict is to focus on the business objectives. In the light of what’s best for the business, discuss the pros and cons of each option. Eventually, everyone wants the business to be successful; if the business don’t win, then nobody in the organization wins.By learning to steer the discussion in this direction, you will learn to disengage from petty differences and position yourself as someone who is interested in getting things done.

Think win-win

As I said in the start of the episode too many times politics comes down to power. Maybe it happens because we are taught that to win, and as a result someone else needs to lose. At the same time we are afraid to let someone else win, because it implies we are weak, not a leader and not in control. I have talked this in the past about people needing to be ‘right’ Learn to think in terms of “how can we both win out of this situation?” This requires that you first understand the other party’s perspective and what’s in it for them. Then find a solution that will work for both sides. Thinking win-win is an enduring strategy that builds allies and help you win in the long term.

Final thought

Be open, be honest, and don’t play games. But also don’t be neive. Know your value. Know what you bring to the team and know when politics goes too far.

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