One of the biggest obstacles that many a working woman faces in her career is navigating office politics. The subtle yet very much existing bias against working women, combined with the wage gap and other gender inequalities in the workplace, make it challenging to master the politics of office life.
This is especially prevalent for working women as many of us tend to feel uncomfortable in confrontational situations, political maneuvering or quid pro quo behavior. Yet, being in an office also means having to deal with office politics. It means having to operate within the political fray that makes up a large part of corporate and business environment because work politics are simply inevitable. Personal and work-oriented goals collide in the workplace, as people seek promotion and compete for limited positions and resources.
As a working woman, navigating office politics has been one of my greatest struggles, especially as an introvert. Between complicated inter-personal dynamics, energy-charged business meetings, and other political challenges at work, I was often left at a loss and confused. It took many years, conversations, lessons learnt and research to even begin to understand how to start making a dent in this imposing obstacle for working women.
If you’re reading this, and are wondering what steps you can take to navigate your particular office or business’ office politics, here are a few practical tips to get started:
Start with your mindset
I often say that it all starts with our mindsets. What you picture in your mind has an interesting way to manifest. For this very reason, it’s crucial to begin the work within, more specifically in your mindset.
Examine your mindset as honestly as possible, and question the particular beliefs that you hold about yourself and as related to your work, career or business. What are those disruptive beliefs that create fear when it comes to your career or business? Are you challenged by inter-personal dynamics and confrontation, and if so, why? How can you get more comfortable dealing with inter-personal dynamics at work? Asking yourself these questions, and exploring avenues to strengthen your mindset and re-frame your view of office politics as positive and productive can make all the difference in the world.
Get clear about your motives and goals
One of the reasons why many of us may shy away from office politics is that we’re not clear about what we want. In order to stand your ground in the political jungle prevailing in most offices and business, you must be clear about your motives and goals.
What are your objectives when it comes to your career? What goals do you have in mind for a specific project? What motives drive you as related to your work? Understand these will help you gain the clarity you need to face the professional political landscape.
Understand the personalities and motives of others
As important as understanding your motives and goals, is understanding those of others around you. It can be challenging to read, let alone control, the complex situations arising in the context of office politics. Considering the mix of personalities and motivations that are most often part of office environments, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle.
Learn to observe the personalities of those around you, before making any premature assumption or having an early reaction. In addition, try to understand their motives. What does their personality tell you about who they are? What could their motives be as related to a particular project, assignment, or to the team, department or company in general? The more information you can get along these lines, the better you’ll be able to strategically prepare, plan, and create options to manage political situations.
Advocate for yourself
A large part of successfully navigating office politics is being able to advocate for yourself. This doesn’t mean adopting a defensive stance, or even promoting yourself at all times. Yet, it means placing yourself in positions where you’re able to demonstrate what you bring to the table.
Don’t hesitate to share results you’ve achieved, and to show the benefits that you can bring to a given project, assignment, team or even company. Even better than tooting your own horn, it’s crucial to strategically understand what would constitute a benefit to others, and present it as your unique competitive advantage. This will take you from uncomfortable “bragging” to strategic “serving”.
Make strategic alliances
In order to successfully navigate office politics, you must learn to recognize the political organization chart. This is not just your formal organizational chart. Rather, it’s about identifying the real office power players around you. Who really has authority around you? Who’s respected and listened to? Who mentors others?
Make strategic alliances with those whose influence you admire and who can help you in your career growth. Build relationships that are mutually beneficial while absorbing as much knowledge as possible.
Leverage informal networks
In addition to understanding who the power players are and building strategic alliances, you must also get familiar with the social networks at hand. What are the groups or cliques in existence around you? Who gets along with whom? Where are the interpersonal conflicts?
Deciphering the social networks around you can also help you navigate the influences at play. It will also save you from unfortunate faux-pas in your career.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
This expression perfectly applies to office politics. Understanding the power players, as well as the informal networks, will help you distance yourself from those who use others for their own purpose. While you should be courteous at all times, you should also be careful of what you share with them.
Understand what motivates them, and steer clear of their negative politicking.
Go above mentorship, seek sponsors
While mentors can pour wisdom, advice and knowledge into you, sponsors can actually advocate for you. These are the people, usually in leadership positions, who will intercede for you and invite you into rooms you wouldn’t normally have access to.
Navigating office politics successfully will require you to have sponsors that support you as you manage the political atmosphere at play.
Use emotions as your personal compass
Working women are often falsely described as being too “emotional” to successfully navigate office politics. What is most often seen as a success impediment for women at work, is actually a strength. As working women, we can actually leverage our emotional quotient and use it as a compass to be politically savvy at work.
This includes being attuned to our emotions to identify the type of people and environments you’re dealing with. This will help you plan, prepare and adjust how you navigate office politics.
Adopt a successful behavior
Look around you and identify successful behaviors you can model. Learn to understand your organization’s culture, as well as what works in it. As a working woman, be a model of integrity by limiting how much you deal with gossip, being positive, and rising above conflicts.
Most importantly, always remain professional, and adopt an organizational, rather than a personal, perspective.
What other tips do you have to navigate office politics as a working woman?
To Your Success,
The Corporate Sister.