Workplace politics is defined as:
“Actions and behaviour involving competition for status or power in a workplace.”
The drama of workplace politics occurs when reports, peers and leaders get in the game of building strategic alliances and leveraging situations for personal rather than collective gain. They tend to generally play the system to better serve their own interests. Sometimes these efforts can be legitimate and are perfectly acceptable and above-board. Other times it can involve dubious practises that cause upset, wreak havoc and add drama to the working culture and environment.
Experienced leaders understand well the benefits of workplace politics. They know that everyone involved can have at times competing interests which require subtle navigation. These interests can involve the whole range of business challenges. Budget or resource allocation, blurred lines in relation to positions of influence or general ambiguity regarding business results, resources and power. It can be about getting approval for an increased headcount, meetings attended, key assignments, budgets or even a new chair or lap top.
But politically savvy leaders do the following 4 things consistently when it comes to workplace politics to avoid any unnecessary drama.
1. Create strategic networks
Strategic networking isn’t just a numbers game. It’s about being connected to the right people for the appropriate situation. Knowing a CEO is no use at all if you need an IT technician. Sometimes the concierge or the receptionist can be the person who can help you best. It’s about the diversity and depth of your network. Make sure you have a Go-To Top 10 for every potential crisis. They should be cross sector and in different geographies give you insight into what’s going on in your organisation and externally. Do a strategic analysis – find out who is missing and actively work to bridge those gaps in your network.
2. Learn how to read the sub-text
Charismatic leaders are not just good speakers they are also excellent and attentive listeners. They ask the right questions and with high levels of EQ they understand the importance of the sub-text. That is, what is not being said. This can help them read a room whether large or small and most situations. This allows them to accurately anticipate difficulties and stay grounded, even if chaos reigns around them. In some cases it even gives them time to prepare.
Enhance your observation skills by tuning into non-verbal communication and learning to read body language. Pay attention to what people are not saying as well as their verbal communication. This will cue you into what they are potentially feeling. It might be a smile but with tense body language, self-soothing hand movements or hunched posture suggesting nerves. Attentive listening paves the way for being present, remaining neutral, asking for clarification and re-capping. All of these techniques make the recipient feel engaged.
3. Stay in business neutral
Remaining calm and showing poise under pressure is key to cutting the drama out of workplace politics. If you feel your hot buttons being pressed make a note of the issues that trigger the emotion and what type of reactions are produced. If you struggle with that seek out a coach immediately.
4. Be open, honest and sincere
Politically astute leaders are renowned for their honesty and openness. Sometimes full disclosure isn’t always possible for a variety of reasons. You can preface any statement by indicating that there are limits to what can be shared. Honesty and sincerity are the foundation of successful relationships because they build up trust and confidence. A lack of integrity will make you an object of distrust which creates uncertainty. Failure to gain people’s trust no matter how competent you are will undermine you and your efforts to remove barriers to gaining access to the information and resources you need to do your job properly.
Lack of trust and openness fuels the rumour mill and leads to gossip and speculation. This is the breath of life to workplace dramas and water-cooler intrigue. Applying these four sets consistently allows you to navigate workplace politics without the accompanying drama.