A keen sense of office politics
can have a dramatic effect on our businesses and careers. People often complain
about office politics, claiming that "we just want to do our jobs well." Let
me share a time-saving technique: Waste not one moment lamenting about the
horrible politics in your firm, company or association. There is no gathering
of three or more persons that is free of politics.
It is necessary to separate
our skills as professionals from that needed to compete politically. Political
skill requires an awareness of how the organization operates and who operates
it, the unwritten policies as well as the written rules.
Office politics has taken
a rap from people who don't get the plums. No one complains about politics who
has been the beneficiary of some savvy actions.
Some people sincerely believe
that if they change jobs or firms, the politics will go away and they'll live
happily ever after. It isn't true of marriages; why should it be true of work?
The change that ultimately will be of value is that of practical, political
The drawbacks to your
career for not having political savvy: You may be perceived as:
- Lacking a career-management
- Being unpromotable.
- Being a loner, rather
than a team player.
- Lacking in common sense,
which has been used to describe logic, practicality, savvy, and know-how.
- Untrustworthy of confidences
and critical information.
To increase our savvy
quotient, here are some strategies we can implement.
- Observe our colleagues,
subordinates and supervisors. Who eats with whom? Works out together? Commutes
- Read the body language
of our coworkers as names and assignments are mentioned.
- Listen - to conversations
in staff rooms, at clients' and even in the washrooms.
Some may describe this
listening strategy as eavesdropping. While often thought to be negative,
this "informal listening" allows us to learn of birthdays, anniversaries, promotions,
coworkers' loss of loved ones, etc., and to take the appropriate steps to acknowledge
The good old office grapevine
has received a tremendous amount of bad press, some of which is unwarranted.
If used properly, it can be a powerful career aid. It can provide you with a
great deal of useful information, including rumors, many of which become fact.
For those of us who consider
such informal communications to be gossip, for which hard-working professionals
do not have time, consider this:
- Information is not necessarily
personal gossip. Probably 80% of it is business-related office politics.
- Gossip can be an intentional
leak by top management of information we should know.
- Conveying a superior
attitude about the grapevine could eliminate our sources of information.
- Smart people make time
to manage their careers. Cultivating sources of information makes sense.
The grapevine may forecast
events through leaks to provide news of the future, which the politically savvy
can take advantage of. For example, we may overhear that our firm is developing
a marketing strategy designed to attract engineering and architectural firms.
Therefore, we attend several functions of those professional associations, start
connecting and develop a network of potential clients. The market plan is presented,
and you have already nurtured leads that turn into major accounts. We get a
percentage and a promotion. Sounds unlikely? It has happened to an acquaintance
with a major accounting firm in San Francisco.
We are in an information
society. Spurning informal information is naive. Rather, you should seek access
to this information. There are, however, two cautions to heed when operating
within the grapevine:
- Listen actively.
- Don't add grist
for the rumor mill - it could come back to haunt us. Everyone knows who has
formal power, since positions and titles are obvious. However, the politically
savvy are also keenly aware of who has informal power.
How do they determine this?
They observe at the office, at meetings and at office parties. They notice who
laughs together, who lunches together, jogs or commutes together. They observe
facial expressions and body language. They listen to people to discover their
values, goals and lifestyles. They learn people's interests, such as who sails,
runs, golfs, sings or makes furniture.
Not already experienced
at cultivating your grapevine? Here are some tips:
- Determine who has access
to relevant, powerful sources of information.
- Trade information when
- Don't fan the flames
of gossip with your opinions.
- Observe co-workers and
those with whom they interact or socialize.
- Buy lunch or dinner for
those who are prime grapevine sources.
- Recognize that members
of professional associations may have information about your firm or company.
- The grapevine now has
its own web - become a web savvy networker.
- Don't e-mail that which
may return to haunt us.
- Be aware!
The grapevine has biblical
and historical roots, and was immortalized in song by the late Marvin Gaye,
and is here to stay. Instead of wasting valuable time cursing or questioning
the grapevine, cultivate it!