Avoiding Office Politics
How to advance your career without bullying or boot-licking
Over the 20 years that I’ve been advising leaders and their teams on how to enhance customer service, I’ve found that with proper training, customer contact workers can quickly learn to enjoy dealing with external customers – even those who are stressed. The main people who make their jobs stressful are their internal customers; their co-workers, subordinates, and supervisors. Turns out, the problem isn’t usually the job itself – it’s office politics. If you’re not into playing politics, if you don’t want to suck-up to supervisors, if you don’t want to step on others to climb the ladder, here are a few questions and answers they won’t tell you in the company manual.
How do I handle a colleague who is bad-mouthing me to the boss without looking like a whiner?
You don’t. Or you will indeed look like a whiner. If your boss has a problem with you, he or she will bring it to your attention sooner or later. Focus on doing your job well and ignore the other person. If they write lies about what you’ve said or done, then you need to refute them (in writing, without exaggerating) and copy your boss on it. Stick to facts only; your opinion will only make you look desperate.
I feel awkward trying to find mentors in the office just so I can get a promotion. What’s an authentic way of meeting influential people?
Join your professional association and get involved. Plumbers have plumbers associations; dog walkers have dog walking associations. They are clamoring for volunteers. You can easily distinguish yourself by showing-up, offering to serve, and being reliable. Mentors will appear. You’ll develop your expertise and your professional network. Eventually, people will want you to become their mentor.
I’m older and I’m concerned I may not fit in with younger coworkers. Any suggestions?
In this case “fitting in” doesn’t mean trying to become one of them. It won’t work and will only make you look insecure. I’ve had similar questions from married employees with young families who are concerned they may not fit in with single workers who socialize after hours. It’s human nature to worry about whether people like us – but it’s a waste of mental energy. The real secret to being liked at work is to be reliable and deliver solid results. Treat everyone positively and respectfully. Then go home and socialize with your own family and friends.
I just got a promotion and it’s awkward to delegate and discipline my colleagues who were my friends up until recently. Your advice?
You’re right, it will be awkward, but that’s true for any leader; whether they were buddies with the person or not. I suggest you call a meeting with your team. Openly explain that of course things will change now that you’re their new boss; things would change with any new supervisor. Explain that whatever happens – good or bad with the team – it will be you as their supervisor who will now be ultimately held accountable. So, while you will ask for their input, you will make the final decision. You will also be giving each of them one-on-one feedback, both positive and areas for improvement. In turn, this role is also new to you. So you will also be asking for individual feedback from each them about ways you can improve as a supervisor. If they have concerns about your leadership, you are asking them to discuss it directly with you; not behind your back. (That won’t prevent back-biting from happening, but it will make them more conscious about it when it occurs).
Some reality TV programs give the impression that the only people who get ahead in their careers are those who connive, backstab, and toot their own horns. That may be true in Hollywood. It rarely works in the real world with successful organizations led by ethical people. That is the kind of place where you want to work, right? In reputable organizations, shameless self promoters quickly wear out their welcome. Ironically, the best strategy for winning at office politics is to refuse to become embroiled in them.