Reframe and Conquer Office Politics

Kyle began our phone call by sharing his frustration. “I hate the politics at my company,” he said. “The only projects that get done are the ones sponsored by the company president’s ‘pets.’ The worth of the project doesn’t matter; it’s all about who you know. I do great work, and that should be enough.” I could hear the anger in his voice. “I’m not 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 clout or authority to get done what I need to get done?”

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

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

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

Take action. The reason the president gives the projects to people he knows and likes is for exactly that reason: he has a relationship with them. Reach out to the people on your list, one by one. Stop by their offices. Invite them out for coffee or to lunch.

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

Be prepared. People love to share their stories, so give them that opportunity. Get ready for your conversation with each person: formulate questions about their work projects and how they might relate to what you do. Ask for advice and listen. Let them do the majority of the talking. Then think about how you can help them with something they’re working on now. Remember, you’re 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 past judgments. Walk into each encounter leaving your history at the door. Don’t hold past injustices over your coworkers’ heads. Be open to whatever good might come out of this interaction.

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

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

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

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