The 2010 US midterm elections have everyone talking politics. Regardless of whether you consider yourself politically active, you are likely involved in another form of politics every day: office politics.
Like it or not, politics will always be around – it's how things get done. There is no way to avoid it (unless you work for yourself and never interact with anyone else professionally – which is quite rare!). If you're not involved in the politics of business, you're not playing the game. And if you're not playing the game, you can not possibly win. Successful professionals not only play the game, they play it well, and they play to win!
Many business professionals bemoan the existence of office politics and take pride in the fact that they do not play that game. Although there is definitely an "ugly underbelly" to office politics, and it's admirable to eschew being a part of that, they fail to realize the impact to their career. Office politics is simply the business of relationships and the "quid pro quo" (something in exchange for something else) inherent to every relationship. Unfortunately, there is no way to remove yourself from this exchange without missing out on the critical benefits that come with it.
Careers are made or broken based on relationships. And the painful truth is, when you need a relationship, it's too late to build it . Mastering office politics essentially boils down to understanding the critical relationships within your department or business – who needs what from what – and understanding how you play into that. Each time you do something for someone, you've earned a figurative "chip" that you can later cash in for something you need. By continuously focusing on how you can create value for those you work with or work for, you build up political goodwill – and that goodwill is critical to including a successful career.
Have you mastered the game or is the game getting the better of you? If office politics has you down, add the following five techniques to your political toolkit:
- Know the unwritten rules. Clearly understand the unwritten rules that your company, your industry, and your network operate by. An example of an unwritten rule might be that no business is discussed at certain company functions (they may be considered purely social). If you approach your boss's boss to pitch a new idea at one of those functions, your idea (as great as it might be) may never be considered. Understand the unwritten rules – your chances of winning the game will go up exponentially!
- Hone your negotiation skills. Approach political business situations as you would any negotiation. Do your homework and think through what you need, what the other person needs, what you have to offer, and how you can facilitate a win-win outcome.
- Master the "quid pro quo". Consistently deliver value for those you work with, and keep in mind that the quid pro quo of office politics is something in exchange for something else. Do not settle for always being on the "giving" end of that relationship – think about what you want in exchange and cash in your chips when it makes sense to do so.
- Find a mentor. Seek out someone at your company or in your industry who knows the routes and is willing to help you hone your political business acumen. Ask lots of questions, study their methods, and model your approach after their. And in keeping with quid pro quo, be sure to return the favor!
- Stay in the game. Do not avoid politically charged situations. Use them as opportunities to fine-tune your political savvy. Even if it feels uncomfortable to you at first, remind yourself that when you are actively involved in creating the solution it will generally reflect more of what you want. When you stand on the sidelines and refuse to get in the game, you miss your chance to influence the outcome.
So, get in the game, play it well, and WIN!