Getting over and around office politics
Women are exhorted to lean in and navigate office politics to avoid damaging their careers and to get that springboard to the next levels. The acquisition of political skills is considered essential for career success. But for some, office politics it is just the last nail in the coffin of their corporate career. It’s not always about understanding how to promote a strategically compelling message, or knowing the right people or creating a powerful network of well-placed players. Read: Why women leave – it’s not complicated.
Many women say they encounter shenanigans of such disillusioning proportions that they feel nothing but disgust and loathing. These range from childish power plays at one end of the spectrum, to ruthless Machiavellian tactics including gaslighting and bullying at the other. Read: Gaslighting in the workplace Their instinct is to leave. Office politics is indeed one of the main reasons women quit corporate life.
Women frequently feel that because they work hard, reward and recognition will follow, in a way that night follows day and Trump follows Donald. They see any posturing as a waste of time and out of line with their core values. They can end up being isolated and without a support network. These feelings of exclusion are compounded when the real action in the decision-making process, is taking place on the golf course and in the bars on a Friday night, and their frustration is compounded. They become reactive, not proactive. In extreme cases they can be deliberately excluded.
Navigating office politics is a vital career skill and life lesson.
However, politics are usually inherent in any organisation and these type of activities go on everywhere. It even happens in Senior gardening clubs and the P.T.A.
Here are 3 tips to handle office politics
#1 Find a sponsor and a mentor
This should preferably be someone high up the food chain who is strong and neutral enough to be a good sounding board. Understanding the subtleties of senior dynamics can give you a firewall to protect yourself against the more insidious side of office politics. Machiavellian men (or women) are unlikely to target, either directly or by exclusion, someone who has a sympathetic ear in key places. Good politicians can tap into multiple groups and develop broad based alliances. Having mentors and confidantes in different parts of the organisation can be valuable.
#2. Observe and wait
To get an understanding of office politics, it’s important to observe the main decision making processes, and people, in your organisation and make some strategic evaluations. Noting specifics, keep a record of precise situations where any negative activity impacted you personally, but just as importantly, compromised business objectives. Thwarting manipulative bosses or colleagues who are more interested in pursuing their own sub set of goals, requires factual back up for any later difficult conversations. Read: How to deal with a bully boss You obviously have to make sure your own record is impeccable. Sadly, all research shows that leaders are more likely to listen to business considerations than personal issues of bullying. This is why bullying in organisations is allowed to go on for extended periods.
#3. Name the elephant in the room
Speak up – call the situation for what it is. Read: The corporate tight rope for women: speaking up. Give the elephant in the room a name. This can be done either privately with someone in a position of influence, or tactfully in a public forum. Gaynor, a post integration project manager encountered huge resistance from all sides, as opposing power playing cliques developed, following a major acquisition. She was caught in the middle of senior management power playing and the usual channels to manage the situation with discretion had failed. In a leadership meeting, which her sponsor had insisted she was invited to, she called for a team building exercise with a external facilitators to manage their integration issues. In so doing, she identified in a public arena: there was a problem, it needed managing then and offered a constructive solution.
This takes confidence. Senior support can be helpful knowing someone has your back. Frequently this can be about developing an assertive and persuasive communication style, backed by facts and specific examples. But it also means getting out of your comfort zone to gain the support of key players in the organisation.
If you’re struggling with office politics and want to build your confidence book a mentoring session here