Reframe and conquer office politics

Kyle began our phone call by sharing his frustration. “I hate politics at my company,” he said. “The only projects that are carried out are those sponsored by the ‘pets’ of the president of the company. The value of the project does not matter; it’s about who you know. I do a great job, and that should be enough.” He could hear the anger in his voice. “I’m no good at playing the game, and I won’t!”

By far one of the biggest challenges my clients face is office politics. People constantly ask me, “How can I influence decisions in my workplace when I don’t have the influence or authority to do what I need to do?”

Time and time again, Kyle’s ideas had been passed over because he wasn’t part of the “in” crowd. So we spent the session with him talking about his options. I suggested that he reformulate the problem to increase his chances of success.

Remove the negative charge. When you think of “office politics,” does your stomach clench and your teeth clench? The first step to dissipating tension is to think about it in a less negative way. Dealing with people is part of your job, neither negative nor positive. It simply is.

rename it. Instead of calling it “office politics,” look at it as “relationship building.” Look around your company and see who the key decision makers are. Don’t limit yourself to your own department; cast the widest net. What interesting things are these people doing that you could learn from? Make a list of the people you would like to connect with.

To take action. The reason the president gives projects to people he knows and likes is for exactly that reason: he has a relationship with them. Contact the people on his list, one by one. Drop by their offices. Invite them over for coffee or lunch.

Get out there. Gone are the days when you would be rewarded just for keeping your head down and doing a good job. You need to get out there, promote yourself, mix it up. Participate in the office culture. Consider it an unreported part of your job description.

To be prepared. People love to share their stories, so give them that opportunity. Prepare for your conversation with each person: ask questions about their work projects and how they might relate to what you do. Ask for advice and listen. Let them do most of the talking. Then think about how you can help them with something they are working on now. Remember, you are building a relationship and you want to be seen as a collaborator, not a competitor. Follow up with a thank you note and plan your next meeting with this person.

Let go of the judgments of the past. Walk into every encounter leaving your story at the door. Don’t hold past injustices over the heads of your co-workers. Be open to anything good that can come out of this interaction.

Shortly after our call, Kyle began working on an action plan to reach people at his company. He now has the rhythm of holding two relationship-building meetings a week. As a result:

• Kyle’s manager invited him to join a cross-functional team after two other VPs pointed out that Kyle’s enthusiasm would be a great asset.

• Kyle’s request to expand his own team was approved when he made a strong case based on information he gained from his expanding network of relationships.

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