Office Politics – Seven Savvy Tips for the Young Professional

Office Politics is a fact of life, like death and taxes, and similarly best dealt with square on.  Ignoring or avoiding often leads to getting blindsided, benched or even blacklisted.  While you may not relish the game as many people do, you must at least acquire a modicum of political savvy to be effective in any job requiring you to work with and through other people.  Here are seven tips to get you started.  Who knows?  Once you get a little more savvy, you may even want to learn more. 

  1. Get Perspective.  It's just a job, not your entire life…I hope!  Sane people recognize that the workplace is really an impersonal game complete with goals, obstacles, rules, teams, players, coaches, rewards, referees and ways to influence the referees.  Know the rules, study the players, learn the moves, get coached and practice.  You will win some and you will lose some. Play hard, celebrate the victories, pick yourself up when knocked down, and then go home and enjoy the rest of your life.  If you try to make your job the focus of your entire life, you'll not be able to get the distance you need to effectively deal with any professional dilemma including office politics.

  2. Focus.  What's my goal and what price am I willing to pay?  These are two vitally important questions you need to ask yourself frequently to stay on a track of your highest choosing.  How easy it is to get pulled down a path with lots of negative unintended consequences when you react with an emotional knee jerk.  What's my goal?  Short term; like in the next few minutes or long term; as the next ten years.  Both types of goals require a conscious choice fully aware of the price to be paid.  A politically astute strategy requires a savvy choice of goals.

  3. Get Savvy.  Get Real.  Grow Up.  Savvy is the acquired ability to operate successfully in any environment.  It is the organizational "street smarts" that allows you to deal with the world the way it is, rather than the way it is supposed to be.  Don't whine about the political, economic or social realities of your workplace situation.  Deal with them.  Savvy people are flexible, adaptable, capable of reading people and situations and are able to respond effectively - they are truly "response-able."

  4. Barter.  Success is usually a joint venture.  Since you need the cooperation of others to succeed, the ability to influence is paramount.  Instead of arguing, convincing or proselytizing, all emotionally draining weak efforts, try the mutually beneficial smooth power strategy of bartering.  “I’ll help you if you help me."  Give something to get something.  Be of benefit to others and reap the rewards of payback.  Do keep track of those looking for just a handout vs. those willing to reciprocate.  Business is the exchange of goods service and favors.  Be business-like with the resources you have at your disposal and make a fair exchange.  You will soon have the resources, talents, skills and protection of others at your disposal if you also remember to payback.

  5. Get Connected Develop an extensive network of allies.  Do not limit your network to only those people you like or those with whom you have a lot in common.  That's a support group! Focus on people you need.  Your alliance network should provide you with access to resources, information, connections, experience and counsel.  Allies may be temporary, or long term loyal partners.  They may even come from the opposition's camp.  They are not necessarily people you like, but they are always people you need.  Invest the time, money and effort to get well connected.  Soon you will be able to use your allies' connections, too.  And remember, it is the mutually beneficial exchanges, the bartering of favors, which keep alliances strong.

  6. Be Resilient.  Capitalize on change.  Resiliency is the ability to utilize the ever-changing environment to your advantage.  You don't have to like what's happening, but if you can't stop it or change it, find a way to use it.  Dinosaurs lacked resiliency.  So do many un-savvy people.  Insisting that the world around you shouldn't be the way it is will only land you in a tar pit.  Look for the opportunity in the change you may be resisting.  Because they are so rare but so valuable in these turbulent times, resilient people will always have career security.

  7. Depersonalize.  Don't take it or give it personally.  This tip alone can save a career.  Don't act personally in an impersonal system.  This doesn't mean you can't be friendly or have fun with your colleagues, but the company is not your family nor should you confuse it with a circle of friends! The workplace is fundamentally an impersonal system designed to accomplish task, not to take care of people.  You will alternately profit and lose from company decisions that are always made in the best interest of the company first. Don't take it personally!  The organization's mission is to make money…and so is yours.  Never think of yourself as an employee, rather consider yourself "You, Inc.," in joint venture with your organization and your colleagues.  This makes your boss your very own customer.  Take good care of your business. Then go home where you can and should be very personal!