I used to say I hate office politics.
That's because I imagined the worst version of office politics - the one you see in TV shows and soap operas where scheming and backstabbing are the norm.
Think about it - even the name "office politics" sounds like something shady 😈.
Here is what I realized though, there is more than one way to engage in office politics. You can build great relationships, gain allies and even build friendships if you approach office politics a little bit differently.
I've had my share of toxic managers and jealous colleagues so when I got this question from Tayba, I was happy to share my advice:
Let me start by saying I don't have a "one size fits all" solution or a magic formula.
Dealing with office politics is all about understanding people and what they really want. And people... we'll are people. They are not always rational or predictable...
Rule number one in dealing with office politics is to change how you view office politics:
You'll have to stop thinking about office politics as an evil dark practice, and start thinking about it as a career accelerator.
You'll need to accept that office politics isn't something that happens to you, it is something you engage in for your own benefit.
Pfff... easier said than done, Maya. I can't control what other people do.
I get it.
I really do.
I have been blocked, ignored, ridiculed, and felt completely left out at work.
I was frustrated when things happened "behind my back" and I had no way of changing the outcome.
I made my ambition smaller so I won't make other people jealous...
I've been there.
And what I learned is that ignoring the situation, making yourself smaller, or trying to fit into someone else's idea of who we should be is a recipe for misery.
There is another way:
Before I share the tactics there are 3 things I want you to remember:
1. You can choose to believe people are inherently good and are doing the best they can.
2. More often than you think, it's not about you. People are not out to get you, they are out to protect themselves.
3. You can teach people how to treat you, based on the way you treat them.
By embracing these beliefs, you'll be able to see the situation differently and make better decisions.
When you win, they don't lose.
Let's address Tayba's question: how can you show up as your best self and add value without making your colleagues feel threatened?
We'll start by understanding WHY Tayba's colleagues are feeling threatened:
They are afraid they would look stupid (Why didn't I think about it?)
They are afraid of change (I'll have to learn something new...)
They are afraid they'll have to level up their game (I just want to keep doing what I'm doing)
They are scared to lose their job (If she is so good, why would they need me?)
Did you notice something here?
"I", "I", "I"... this is not really about Tyba, it's about them.
Their actions are a reaction to their fear, and what they really want is to feel safe.
So all Tayba need to do is find ways to help them feel safe.
She needs to help them see that when she wins, they don't lose. It's not a Zero-sum game. There is enough success to go around.
The goal is to get people to see the win-win possibility 👇
What I have found to be helpful in these situations is to bring people along.
Instead of making yourself small to make them feel better, you invite them to be part of your success.
So for example when you have new ideas, instead of shouting them from the rooftop or going straight to your manager start by "consulting" with your colleagues.
Ask for their opinion and advice. Include them in the process and make them partners.
If you are not sure how to do that, ask yourself?
WHAT IS IN IT FOR THEM?
When you are able to see how supporting you will benefit them, you can influence almost anyone to be on your side!
Here's an example:
One of my team members was an extremely organized individual. This person had templates and processes they have developed for over a decade, and a few weeks into their new role, this team member wanted everyone to start using their templates.
Instead of sending the templates to everyone, or to me, and saying "these are great templates, I optimized them over the past few years... let's use them" this team member decided to bring the team along.
She started by asking what is the existing process and whether it was working well (a few pain points came up)
Then she asked if it would be beneficial for her to share how she overcame those pain points before (got a strong "yes")
She shared one template and asked the team to circle back with feedback and suggestions for improvements (a few people participated)
Incorporated feedback and got buy-in from the team to use the template across the board (not to mention gratitude)
As a result --> the team ASKED if this individual had more ideas, processes, or templates that could improve everyone's productivity.
She made this whole process about the team, not herself. She focused on how to solve a problem for them (reduce pain) and did not highlight the lack of organization she observed. She also brought them along instead of just offering her solution. And HOW she did it made all the difference.
(by the way, a great side effect of this approach was that other team members felt empowered to make their own suggestions for improvement).
Office politics done right can help you grow your career 💡
It doesn't have to be something that happens to you - it can be a practice you lead to build your reputation and get buy-in.