Office Politics

 Feb 03, 2016

I had several people ask me what to do about office politics. It’s a thorny issue and it depends very much on the situation at hand. Some typical ones that I’ve come across:

1. When everyone comes to you with the latest gossip, or to whinge about another person

One of the best bits of advice I ever came across suggested that I listen respectfully, paraphrase (possibly even with some empathy), and then ask that person what they thought they should do about it. So a conversation might go something like:

“She’s the most disorganised person I’ve ever had to deal with. How does she expect me to keep track of everything if she doesn’t stick to the system and just does whatever she likes.”

Response: “Sounds like this is a really difficult and frustrating situation for you. Have you told her how you feel? Would you like to talk through what you might say to her?”

I believe that this will evoke one of two responses; either the person will find someone else to listen to their tale of woe, where they get more sympathy (and even encouragement!), or they will take your advice and try to act responsibly by talking to the relevant person.

2. Taking sides

This is always a tricky situation because sometimes people feel torn between their loyalties. Often the internal conflict is between a work loyalty to a boss/team, versus a personal loyalty, either to a friend, or around a personal belief.

A diplomatic approach might suggest that one remains neutral and says nothing. In my experience, this suggests a tacit acceptance of the situation. A self-respecting course of action would be to express your concern around a particular event/action/person but show that you also understand another view. For example:

“I think that the organisation is absolutely pathetic and I can’t understand why they don’t do more in X direction”.

You could reply with “I can see what you are saying and my experience has been different.” Or, “I appreciate that you don’t see things the same way as the team does and it must be frustrating. I have a concern too about the direction we are taking and I think we should discuss it with Z”.

3. Managing “up”

It would be true to say that managing up isn’t going to be the topic of textbooks, and very few employees are open about the degree to which they have attempted this delicate skill. Handled poorly, managing your boss is going to backfire on you, and a worst, you’re going to be seen as a know-it-all who has no loyalty to anyone but yourself. So a word of advice is to think long and hard about what it is you want to achieve, be sincere, and pick your moment.

Secondly, argumentative, defiant and aggressive language (“you must/should…”) is most definitely not going to win the day. You need to make your ideas, no matter how passionate you feel about them, sound like a suggestion. You need to be armed with all the facts that you can muster, and above all, you need to exercise patience and tact. No boss wants to feel “manoeuvred” or “engineered”. A conversation initiated by you might go something like this:

“I wonder whether I might have a few moments of your time to discuss X. I’ve given it quite a lot of thought and it’s something I care about. I want to see us succeed and the information I have (facts) suggests that we may have some options that we’ve not yet explored. Would it be ok for me to outline some of my ideas?”

Expressing yourself as part of the team, and opening the door to other options allows the boss to make the decision and see your caring, without feeling usurped. What’s in it for you is to see the possibility of your ideas being considered, and your ideas heard.

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About the Author:

Fee Hosking  

With over 24 years experience as a trainer, Fee is one of our most senior Professional Development trainers at New Horizons Sydney. With a professional background as a management consultant in the South African manufacturing industry, Fee brings credibility, experience and authenticity to all of the subjects that she trains. She has the ability to engage professionals from the junior to the senior level. Bringing great energy to the classroom, Fee ensures that the learning experience for all who attend is an enjoyable one, which in turn makes it a truly impactful one.

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