What’s the hardest thing about your job? If you’re like many of the people I talk to
as a life coach, what’s toughest about work isn’t the work at all, but playing politics.
Maybe it’s feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around a team member to avoid
confrontation. Or maybe it’s trying to figure out how to navigate the murky waters
of communication between your boss and your bosses’ boss without stepping on
toes or leaving anyone out of the loop.
Whatever your particular situation, office politics can confuse and frustrate even
top-performing employees. So what’s the solution to keeping political quagmires
from dragging you down emotionally or derailing your career goals? Consider the
Choose Your Battles. Nothing can embroil you faster in office politics than raising
red flags and reporting on obstacles at every turn. By always being the whistle-
blower, you put yourself toe-to-toe with whatever person or department is on the
other end of the situation. Even if your observation is correct, will your problems
really be solved by being the one to put someone else in the hot seat? No matter
what your level, companies want people who can solve problems for them, not just
point them out. This is why going into battle mode can often backfire.
Before you go on the offensive, take a step back and think about whether you are
the right person to address this issue. Perhaps the situation is one that that your
boss would be more appropriate to handle, or a colleague in different department.
Perhaps a team approach would work better if you are aware that others agree
with your perception of the problem. If you can find a way to put some distance
between yourself and the issue, or to share responsibility by reporting on it with a
group, then you’ve found a way to stay off of the front lines alone should the politics
involved in resolution get ugly. And most importantly, you’ve saved your right to
raise issues for the ones that matter most to you.
See Politics as Part of Your Job. One of the frustrations that I’ve seen many people
encounter over my years of life coaching is that they feel like they shouldn’t have
to deal with office politics. They feel like they have to waste a lot of time navigating
political situations instead of getting to spend that time on their “real job”. But
guess what? Handling politics carefully is part of your job. That’s one reason why
managers get paid more as they move up the ranks -they are being paid to cut
through the politics of their position, because the political stakes intensify the
further up the ladder you climb.
So today when you go to work, as you confront various situations that seem to fall
outside of the realm of your stated job description, remind yourself that this, too, is why you get paid the big bucks. There is little of greater importance or visibility
than skillfully navigating your work relationships.
Seek Help When Needed. There are times when, despite your best judgment and
intentions, a political situation at work becomes unmanageable. Only you can decide
what “unmanageable” means to you. If you feel like you’ve gotten in over your head,
it may be time to call for reinforcements. If a supervisor can’t help you, perhaps
human resources can – or if you’ve exhausted all internal options, you may want to
talk to a lawyer. These resources exist for employees because politics can be tough.
But with the right strategies in place, you can beat them.