What are the secrets to winning at office politics?
The research and the experts agree on what it takes to win at office politics.
Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t brings the academic research and Albert Bernstein, clinical psychologist and author of Am I The Only Sane One Working Here?: 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity brings 30 years of one-on-one work with execs.
It’s eerie how much what they say lines up.
So what do you need to know to survive and thrive?
1) Don’t Opt Out
Pfeffer and Bernstein agree the first step to winning at office politics is to stop thinking that the world is fair and that you are somehow above the fray.
There ain’t no justice. Fairness is a human construct; it doesn’t apply to the machinations of the gods or the company.
Just working hard isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Politics matters more than results in the workplace.
In an experimental study of the performance appraisals people received, those who were able to create a favorable impression received higher ratings than did people who actually performed better but did not do as good a job in managing the impressions they made on others.
Politics is human nature. You may not like it but it’s not going anywhere.
You cannot not play politics. You can only play politics badly.
You can’t not play politics; you can only play them badly… the only place where relationships don’t matter is on a desert island far away from the rest of the world.
2) Please your boss
What is, by far, the single most important relationship you have in any office?
The one with your direct superior.
Both Bernstein and Pfeffer agree: please your boss.
Regardless of how hard you work or what a good job you may be doing, if your boss doesn’t like you, you’ll get nowhere fast.
Your relationship with your boss is far more important than your actual performance.
The lesson from cases of people both keeping and losing their jobs is that as long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you…
How do you keep the boss happy? Ask what they want and do it.
It is much more effective for you to ask those in power, on a regular basis, what aspects of the job they think are the most crucial and how they see what you ought to be doing.
3) Make alliances
You can’t just do your job. You need allies.
The best predictor of team success is not smarts or effort — it’s how team members feel about one another.
The better we feel about these workplace relationships, the more effective we will be. For example, a study of over 350 employees in 60 business units at a financial services company found that the greatest predictor of a team’s achievement was how the members felt about one another.
How do you make alliances?
Do favors for people. Find out what they need from your position, and let them know that you can supply it. In other words, sell yourself by your actions. You have to find out what their idea is about where your position fits in and how you can help the group.
Because networking does entail some effort, you ought to be strategic about your networking activities. Make a list of people you want or need to meet and organizations where some personal connection might be helpful. Work your way down that list, figuring out ways to build social relationships with a wider and more diverse set of individuals.
Really get to know people so you can help them — and then they can help you. It even works for future Presidents of the United States…
One of the sources of Lyndon Johnson’s success as Senate majority leader was his assiduous attention to the details of his 99 colleagues, knowing which ones wanted a private office, who were the drunks, who were the womanizers, who wanted to go on a particular trip—all the mundane details that permitted him to accurately predict how people would vote and figure out what to give each senator to gain his or her support… far from diverting you from accomplishing your objectives, putting yourself in the other’s place is one of the best ways to advance your own agenda.
4) How to deal with gossip
Like it or not gossip is valuable because it is information. And research shows gossip is true approximately 80% of the time.
But it’s also a weapon and can blow up in your face. How do you play with fire?
If you make it a rule to speak only for yourself and listen only to people speaking for themselves, most of the worst abuses can never happen.
How should you respond to gossip?
Stick to Dale Carnegie. What he said works. Stay positive.
Answer bad with good. Whenever gossips say something negative about someone, say something positive.
5) So how do you win?
Some greats tips from Bernstein.
Know Your Goal. The first rule for staying sane is to know what you want to happen, and let your goal determine your actions…
Know Other People’s Goals. The essence of successful competition is getting people to believe that the best way to get what they want is to give you what you want. To do that, you have to know what they want. You can make some general assumptions: People at your level and below, like the guys in the other department, want their jobs made easier. People above you, such as your boss and the CEO, want information they can use to make themselves look good.
Sometimes, people will do things because they are right or because the rules say they should, but all in all, self-interest is a much more reliable motivator. When you want cooperation, think carefully about what you have to offer in return. Always let people know up front what’s in it for them.
Learn from Winners. Pay close attention to what successful people do, rather than judging their actions. What did the political suck-up who got your promotion do that you aren’t doing? How about that coworker who makes more than you?
Schmooze Upward. In most places, information is the coin of the realm. You won’t learn much of value sitting in your cube or gossiping with your buddies in the break room. Never miss an opportunity to chat informally with people above you. You never know what you might learn about them, or what they might learn about you.
Play Your Cards Close to Your Vest. Information is valuable. Get as much as you can, but be choosy about what you give out…
Need more info?
- Learn to network.
- Learn to kiss ass the right way.
- Learn to communicate as perfectly as a hostage negotiator.
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