Whether you work for a global corporation or a small family business, office politics are a reality. When humans come together, there will be inevitable bouts of gossip, cliques, and even power struggles. This can make it difficult to feel confident and empowered at your job, particularly if you’re new to the role or workforce.
In fact, a third of UK workers say that office politics contribute to their unhappiness at work, according to new research from leading recruiter Adecco. And rightfully so. Just because you might like watching the drama of reality TV doesn’t mean you want that drama in your day-to-day life.
However, very few of us are taught how to navigate these choppy waters with our dignity and mental health intact. So, we’re here to help! Below is our quick & dirty guide to navigating office politics, excelling in your role, and making friends along the way.
Don’t gossip about others
Although this advice may sound obvious, it can be difficult to practice when everyone is gossiping around you. We all want to fit in, especially in a new environment, and gossiping can feel like a shortcut to that acceptance.
However, when we repeatedly tear others down, we can lose the trust and respect of the people around us that we crave. How often have we heard stories of someone who gossiped about someone else, only to have those details come back to bite them later? It doesn’t matter if the gossip is true or not; speaking ill of another person isn’t worth it. If a significant problem with someone else repeatedly emerges, it’s important to take it to your manager so they help find a solution before it boils over.
Could gossiping ever be good? Actually, yes! Researchers have found a difference been judgemental conversations about other people and conversations about what’s going on within a team or a company. In fact, 42% of millennials reported that they felt office chatter built relationships at work. In that same Office Pulse study, over 40% said it helped relieve office stress. The key is making sure that these conversations are judgment-free, fun, and/or happening for the sake of conflict resolution. Joking about the holiday party is different than gossiping about how annoying you think someone is.
Think before you speak
Although office chatter can unfold quickly via email or Slack, it’s important to think before you speak—or type. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time —whether it be in a personal, professional, or social context —can unintentionally lead to hurt feelings and awkward situations. A ten-second pause is never a bad idea.
Taking a few moments to consider how your words might make another person feel is crucial for building meaningful relationships and avoiding misunderstandings. When in doubt, always strive for kindness; by communicating with compassion and thoughtfulness, you can model the type of behavior you hope to receive from others.
Get to know as many people as possible, including those in other departments
Connecting with colleagues in other departments is an opportunity that should not be taken for granted. These connections can provide access to different knowledge, skill sets, and experiences within a company. They can even shed light on the importance of a pesky process or offer context for someone’s behavior.
Stepping out of your comfort zone and introducing yourself to someone new in your office can help to bridge important gaps that may not be seen otherwise. Moving beyond your own team not only provides you with immediate benefits that are useful for day-to-day tasks, but it also allows for quicker problem-solving as well as creating a healthier work environment in the long term. Stronger social networks lead to stronger (work) lives.
Find a mentor
Often, office politics are the result of years of history that you won’t be able to understand on day one. If you’re looking to navigate your office with ease, it’s a smart move to find a mentor whom you can turn to for guidance. A mentor can provide helpful advice, provide context for the issues you face, and make introductions to key stakeholders.
A good mentor is a great asset because they’re devoted to seeing their mentees succeed. And what better way to show that support than by helping their mentee navigate the political landscape? So be on the lookout for someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience, and seek out their help whenever you need it.
Professionalism—the ability to keep your cool, even when others are not—is an important quality to cultivate. Such behavior demonstrates respect for yourself and for those around you, and can de-escalate difficult situations.
When conducting business or addressing challenging tasks, professionalism shows that you have a handle on the situation and can be trusted to navigate it with care. This is a rare skill, and one that can differentiate you from a valued worker to a respected leader. A polished approach ensures that others view you as a credible individual who takes your work seriously, and can even lead to promotions.
Keep your cool
Keeping your cool during difficult moments can be tricky. We are all humans with a wide range of experiences, memories, and dreams that we bring to work each day. We’re not robots!
However, while our emotions tend to happen in the moment, the repercussions of our actions can linger long after the incident has passed. So instead of expressing emotions you might regret, try to remain composed, solve the issue at hand, and connect with your support system outside of the office at the end of the day.
Staying savvy in your workplace means being aware that there are always politics at play, no matter what level or position you’re in. However, you don’t need to disengage entirely from your team in order to avoid getting caught up in office politics. By taking a mindful approach to your interactions, you can learn valuable lessons and skills that will serve you well both professionally and personally. You could even become a role model at the company! So keep cool, stay focused, and most importantly, trust yourself. You were hired in the role for a reason.