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Office Politics: Are You a Naysayer?
By Susan RoAne   Printer Friendly Version

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 awareness.

The drawbacks to your career for not having political savvy: You may be perceived as:

  • Lacking a career-management skill.
  • 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 together?
  • 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 these events.

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 it's required.
  • 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!


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