Overcoming Office Politics: Tame the Animals!
Office politics: Love them or hate them, they are part of our reality at work. If you want to succeed, you must play the political game. At work, people with different goals compete for the same insufficient resources to reach them. This creates stress and pressure. Pressure and personalities create the behavior that we call politics.
Which Political Animal Are You?
Your personality drives much of how you play the political game.
I like to think of the personalities as animals. In one framework, political behavior is evaluated on 2 dimensions – personal and positional power. Your junior colleague who loves every idea is a Golden Retriever. That unpopular, unreliable coworker who says one thing and does another? That’s the Sly Fox. And the senior manager with plenty of influence and little patience is a powerful Tigress who can be your best ally or your worst blocker. From the Snake in the Grass to the Wise Owl, your office is a political jungle. Learn to spot the animals and you can predict, and manage, their behavior. You can tame your jungle!
In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.
Mastering Politics Means Taming the Animals
You can use a simple 4-step plan to master office politics. The four steps are Know, Analyze, Plan and Act.
Before you can tame the other animals, you need to know yourself. What animal do you become under pressure? What are your own strengths and weaknesses, and how do they affect the way you work with colleagues? This is the foundation of the approach, so be sure to get it right. Ask some trusted co-workers about how they perceive your behavior. Most importantly, think about how you behave and feel in tense moments. Next, be very clear about your goal and its real benefits. Know your must-haves, your nice-to-haves, and the points you don’t really care about.
Now that you truly understand yourself and what you are trying to accomplish, do the same analysis for potential allies and people who may try to block you. What are their animal tendencies? Are they Changeable Kitties or Yipping Lap Dogs? What are their goals? Are there topics that will matter more or less to them?
Analyze your work culture, too. It’s important to clearly understand the limits of what your company will tolerate, and the behaviors that are acceptable. In some companies, confrontations and aggressive behavior are encouraged, which can bring out the Shark in almost anyone. In other companies, disagreement is subtler; Snakes in the Grass are far more common there. So be sure you understand your context as well as your competition and colleagues.
Use the results of your analysis. Now that you know what other people want, and where it complements, or at least does not interfere with, your goal, you can find ways to help them. Helping others is one of the best ways to get them to help you. Map out a plan for how to get what you need while helping others reach their goals too. Use your understanding of their animal tendencies to neutralize bad behaviors; if you’re dealing with a Sly Fox, focus your discussion on actions that everyone can see to keep them accountable. If some goals seem to oppose yours, remember the famous orange negotiation exercise; prepare a list of questions that will help you find solutions together. Try not to block anyone else more than necessary.
Put your plan into action. Speak to potential allies and blockers in a way that appeals to their animal selves. Stay calm and factual. Be willing to make trade-offs in areas that really don’t affect your goal. Adapt your strategy as you learn new facts.
Reading people and analyzing the situation takes practice. Keep working at it. Becoming a master politician at the office is neither a positive nor a negative. It’s a necessity, if you want to get things done. Learn to read people and work with them, and you can tame your own office jungle.