COMPANY CULTURE / DEC. 09, 2015
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How Avoiding Office Politics Could Hurt Your Career

Politics in the office is par for the course for many of us. From the very first run in you have with a political colleague or boss, or a team, where sharpened elbows are an office essential, we learn to survive office politics in the corporate world.

It is less common that we learn to use office politics to promote our own careers in an ethical and authentic fashion. Or at least, we learn this lesson rather later on in our career paths, when it could serve us well from our very first working day.

See Also: How to Conquer Office Politics

Politics can be put to good use to help you grow in your career, and in doing so, you can bring business benefits to your team and wider organisation. People do not flourish in isolation, so understanding how to leverage the power of office politics is smart, not only for you but for the broader business, too. Office politics at its best is about building relationships, understanding influence and informal power structures, getting to grips with the unspoken agendas of others - and creating your own agenda to promote yourself in a positive way.

Now is the time to get over your fear of engaging with the politics in your workplace. While it might be natural to want to try and avoid office politics, doing so could damage your career in the long run. Not only will you be left behind by other, more politically astute colleagues, you might lose some real tangible benefits which will help you get more out of work on a day to day basis. 

Here is why:

Office Politics Splits Genders

Women tend to avoid a productive application of office politics more than men, perhaps for fear of being labeled manipulative or bitchy, or being seen as gossips. Whereas it is more common for men to be comfortable with the macho needling of the boardroom, competitive ’banter’ or open arguments, women might try to keep clear of this element of professional life.

And it is hardly surprising. For a start, some of these snapshots of office politics are simply not helpful, and politics are obviously not all about being pushy or trying to achieve your goals at the expense of others. But if women seek to eliminate politics altogether, they throw the baby out with the bath water, and put themselves at a disadvantage against their male counterparts.

It has been widely observed that women have a tendency to hold back instead of putting themselves out there in a work environment, and openly saying what they want from their career. You can be sure that you will struggle to get what you want if you never share that nugget of information, and getting to grips with the currents of influence and power in the office can help you get that message across where you need to.

Understanding office politics and using the elements of it that can be productive to career development, should be a priority for ambitious individuals regardless of gender, so it might be time to put on your big girl pants and get involved. 

Relationships Are Built Through Politics

Politics - when used in a positive fashion - is about building relationships and developing a successful career for any of us, relies on the network we have around us. While people might choose to avoid politics because of the cliques, intrigue and underhand personal relationships that can be part and parcel of office life, that would be to underestimate the mutually beneficial alliances that are an equal part of office politics. Ignore these at your peril.

Office politics does not have to be about sharpening your elbows to push past your colleagues on the way to the top. It does not have to be aggressive or snarky. It is not macho, competitive and argumentative to the exclusion of ability, talent and teamwork.

Office politics can be put to good use for yourself and others. Politics will help you find a mentor and coach; it will help you achieve friendships and bonds with your colleagues, and will help you move on. When it’s working for you, it makes work really fun.

There is no need for office politics to be divisive; it can equally be a force that brings people together. You have a choice about how you use (or abuse) these relationships and can apply them to build as well as you can to destroy. Avoiding office politics altogether stops you from drawing some of these fundamental benefits and resources to promote your career on a day to day basis.

Selling Your Story Requires Political Insight

Office politics is about a balance of power and influence. If you do not understand it in your office, you cannot hope to sell your story when you are looking for promotion, additional responsibility, or salary. You might hope that your work would do the talking, but sadly that is not likely to be the case.

If you do not have political awareness, you will not be able to develop the self awareness to articulate your unique value proposition well enough, to get the promotion you seek. Good work, done quietly, is not enough. Office politics, and understanding who holds influence in your office, is the key to making sure your work is noticed, by the right people and at the right time for your career.

Ultimately, you are looking to advance your career, and when you’re looking for a promotion, there is no time to be a shrinking violet. But if you just shout about your abilities indiscriminately, you could be wasting your time and turning people off. You need to have a personal agenda. To avoid being counterproductive in your search for promotion, you need to understand who holds the power in the office and go directly to them.

Politics is Neither Good Nor Bad - Only Motives

The main reason that avoiding office politics can damage your career might actually be that it shows a fundamental misunderstanding about how influence, power and connections work in the officePolitics is not a dirty word. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with office politics, what matters is the motives and ethics underlying the political actions and approaches.

Lying and cheating, trampling on others to achieve your goals, and blindly promoting yourself without care for others or your own ethics, is wrong. Setting out to promote your own career by building relationships and showcasing your abilities to the people that matter, is not something bad. Both, in their own way, are politics.

If you approach politics with authenticity and ethics, looking to build relationships and understand the influence, networks and power relationships in your office, then your career will benefit. With no need to feel mucky about it at all!

See Also: The Unwritten Rules of Office Etiquette

If you worry that your understanding of office politics might not be helping your career, then you need to figure out how to play the game in a way that you’re comfortable with. Perhaps the better way to think about politics is to treat it as a way of building authentic relationships, and drop the ’politics’ tag altogether. After all, those who are sitting in positions of power in our governments have hardly helped infuse the word with trust, honour or wisdom.

But at its heart, politics is about making things happen, about building connections and understanding how to judge and influence situations. Done well, this is career building at its best. No need to stand on anybody’s toes to get up that ladder.

Have you ever used office politics to develop your career? Let us know below…

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