7 Habits to Successfully Navigate Office Politics for the Win

Office politics. I can hear the echo now from the cascade of sighs and grunts. Enter the new world of an already complicated landscape with every new introduction of a -phobe, -ism, or sexual harassment. Cue bad Powerpoint slides, videos, and hours of endless and mindless death-by-e-learning.

The More Things Change in Office Politics…

7 Habits for Successfully Navigating Office Politics

I think I first heard the quote “the more things change, the more they stay the same” in a Wallflowers song in the 1990s. Turns out Jakob Dylan didn’t coin the lyrics. Bummer.

Anyway, the workplace is a dynamic place. You don’t have to live under a rock to know that working with people who are different than you might be a little very hard at times. Sometimes, you get along great with your boss and really enjoy the team dynamics of a dream-start-up atmosphere.

Other times the people you help – the very people you were hired to placate – hate your guts. And that may even be putting it mildly. They don’t want to change. “We’ve always done it this way.” As Captain Jack Sparrow says in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest:

Elizabeth: Because you and I are alike and there will come a moment when you have a chance to show it. To do the right thing.

Jack: I love those moments. I like to wave at them as they pass by.

I’m talking we want to keep using pencils and paper even though you’re the new media guy meant to make of this stuff more friendly and less tree-killer’ish.

Maybe you’re digging your organization or department out of holes they don’t even know they’re in? Sometimes it’s #thankless work.

How the heck do I make it through the office politics?

It may be a personality conflict with someone in a position of power. Heck, it may even be just an unlucky misunderstanding or a slip in that little passive-aggressive personality of yours. Even the best and most enjoyable jobs can be ruined by tension so thick that you can cut it with a knife.

So how do you deal with office politics? How do you work with your coworkers?

You cultivate positive and productive habits. These simple habits diffuse tension and show respect for others. I’m not saying that these seven habits will magically fix any office politics situation. I can assure you, though, that they will cut down on the number of situations ready to go wrong.

These seven habits will make your work easier and more enjoyable. They’ll reduce the number of conflicts you encounter. And they will lay the groundwork for diffusing any powder kegs that you do happen upon.

7 Habits to Successfully Steer Through Office Politics

  1. Begin by treating your coworkers like they’re your biggest customer. Remember how you were taught to smile when talking to a customer, even if over the phone? It’s clich√© for sure, but smiling when you talk, along with other accompanying body language, will change the trajectory of how you communicate. Since you’re providing goods or services to your coworkers, think of them as your customer. Use manners. Thank them when they overdeliver. Acknowledge them when it’s warranted. All of this will lay groundwork for future relationship growth and success. Even if they approach you with some pre-existing bias that might be against you, kill them with kindness and watch those barriers fall.
  2. Remember that you do not always have a choice in what happens, but you always have full control of how you respond. At the end of the day, the only thing you can control is your response to what happens. Just like you cannot possibly address every accident or every contingency that might affect your life, you cannot force people to act like you want. Acknowledge that and control – dare I say it – discipline your response. Why are elite Army, Navy and Marine units so elite? They train with discipline. If those men and women can handle what they see and respond professionally, then you can handle a flippant comment.
  3. Set goals and know what you are willing to give up in order to get. Office politics are like real politics. The goal is to compromise to work out a situation that, while not perfect for all, will at least keep the office moving forward. Look, our current crop of politicians are horrible at this, but this is what makes a democracy work. It also makes companies thrive. Give to get. That begins by knowing, what you want, what you’ll give up, and ultimately what you will accept. If you can begin to move the needle, then a larger win is on the horizon.
  4. Know who the influencers are in the informal power networks. Everyone knows the CEO, COO, CFO and every other designation of the man or woman who runs the show. Sociology tells us that groups meet and power differentials form. Ken from Accounting might not be the head, but anything with his support ultimately sees adoption in his department. Sarah may just be the old hand at the job who knows how to get her boss Rebecca on board. Be on the lookout for the people who you can win to your side. These are the folks you must work with, and they won’t always have C-suite titles.
  5. Avoid taking sides. This one is probably the most difficult. Everyone wants to be on the right side of things and sometimes one side is 100% correct while the other is 100% in the wrong.  Remember compromise? Be the peacemaker. Look for creative solutions. Don’t be lulled into winning the battle only to lose the war. If you jump too heavily on a side it can lead to unnecessary adversarial relationships. Build trust by working for the benefit of all.
  6. Don’t make a point, instead make a difference. I sort of hijacked this one from Andy Stanley. Being a leader naturally means that what you do matters. This can be as simple as to your coworkers. Don’t sacrifice the ultimate better direction just to score a rhetorical point or win a meaningless battle. Sometimes it can be easy to throw out red meat to people who think just like you just to spite an opponent. Comments with snark are the normal in the Twitter and Facebook era. Deviate from the norm in a way that will make your life easier. Cut the sarcasm and work for the bigger goal.
  7. Use humility, seek to generate a consensus and negotiate a win-win environment. The phenomenal business book Good to Great brings this lesson home. The CEOs and other movers/shakers aren’t the loud mouths and oversized personalities. Both media and the business world catechize us that the alpha male (or alpha female) brings home the bacon. (Picture Glengarry Glen Ross as impeccably played by Alex Baldwin. Always be closing!) Wrong! As Jim Collins reports in Good to Great, it’s far more often the people who work quietly and with discipline in the background. They build into the people around them. Your work is not a zero-sum game. As my wife said, your reputation is what matters. Put that reputation to work by making a difference through humility. You might just be surprised whom you win to your side.

Always Be Closing…Your Mouth

A number of these 7 habits sound like having kumbaya moments. I get that. They buck the conventional wisdom of dominating a room with the sheer force of your personality.

Do you really want to build something to stroke your ego? Go right ahead. A larger ego with more power will come right along and crush you when the time comes. This isn’t a decree of karma. It’s the reality of a widely varied world.

At the end of the day, large or small, one things is true about any company. They only function on all cylinders when there is trust. And these habits will cultivate trust with a green thumb. In a hyper-individualized society of me first, these actions will shine. And I am telling you from personal experience across several sectors now, this is where people thrive and companies (or organizations) grow.