Getting lost in office politics?
Updated: Sep 15
Why it's crucial you learn this game - and already have all the tools available to you!
Whichever organisation I worked in, whoever I talked to. It was ALWAYS the office politics that was most wearying. Women would tell me they were fed up with it.
They wished they could just get on with their work and do a good job and that was it. Promotion would follow. They would be rewarded on their merit and the amount of effort they put in. The end. Everyone happy.
Of course it doesn't work like that.
It made me think.
Because unless you find yourself a career where you don't have to interact with people and never have to step foot into an office again you're going to have to become savvy in navigating politics.
Where to start?
First of all I'm going to have to set a bit of context. When it comes to navigating the workplace it is NOT a level playing field.
Women are at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating the office. Why? Because workplaces are designed for men. Because women still believe that it is a meritocracy. Whilst the truth is that women have many more barriers to climb than men when it comes to work:
Most workplaces are male-dominated and male rules apply
Confidence is being equated to competence - but if women come across as confident they might be perceived not to be 'nice'
The penalty for women who choose to be mothers - where instead men are rewarded
The gender pay gap and the undervaluing of caring professions - traditionally seen as 'women's work' *
Instead of seeing this for what it is, women start doubting themselves and lose confidence.
It is no wonder that there are many more women who claim to be suffering from Impostor Syndrome than men!
*** So let me say it loud and clear: It's not you, it's the workplace!***
What to do to navigate politics
Now that we've established that it's not you it still leaves the little issue of how to navigate this - heavily weighted in favour of men - workplace.
Let me tell you what I think.
You and your strengths
KNOWING your strengths
I often meet women who can talk eloquently and enthusiastically about the work they're involved in. The project they're involved in. The organisation they work for. The people in their team.
But when I ask about their strengths they become quiet.
We're not used to thinking about our strengths. We are finding it really difficult to pinpoint what is totally unique about us.
Take Amy. She came to me with a lack of confidence. She had been out of work, and couldn't find her way back in.
We talked about her strengths. She told me that she had NEVER missed a deadline. Literally never. She didn't think that was anything special. She didn't think SHE was anything special.
Think about it. What you take for granted others will never be able to achieve. And certainly not with so much ease.
So what are YOUR strengths? And if you don't know what do your colleagues come to you for. What can THEY tell you about your strengths?
TALKING ABOUT your strengths
It's one thing to KNOW your strengths it's quite another to TALK about them. A lot of us have been taught - by parents, by teachers, by society - not to brag. To put others before ourselves. To be modest.
Whilst actually what you are is hardworking, knowledgeable and effective. Creative, collaborative and communicative. You create results. Fact.
Sometimes I ask women to think of themselves as a CEO. If your CEO asks you to talk about something to others you would, wouldn't you? Without hesitation. Without second-guessing.
Try thinking of this in the same way.
*** You are your own CEO. You are asked to present the facts to (an interviewer/recruiter/ potential employer). What would you say? ***
You and your values
Do you know what your values are? Yes, you do. Or at least your gut does. Because every time your values are being violated all the nerves in your gut grip together like a tight ball.
(By the way, did you know that your gut contains 500 million neurons, with direct signals to your brain? Isn't the body amazing?)
*** If you tune into your body. Listen to what really (really) gets you. You will start to figure out pretty quickly what your values are.***
it is the starting point for a journey in which you will be able to decipher if the organisation and the team you work in is aligned with them. And if you are willing to stay in an organisation whose values are not aligned with yours.
Culture and 'the rules'
An organisation's culture defines how to behave in a certain situation.
There might be unwritten rules that you are not aware of when you first start. You might find that the culture of your organisation doesn't sit comfortably with you.
If you thrive in an organisation with structure you may not do so well in an organisation that values flexibility over all. If you believe you've got a 40 hour a week job you may not be too pleased to find that you're expected to go to the pub on Friday nights and to be in the office before the boss to get on.
*** Knowing the organisation you work in, especially when it comes to the unwritten rules and culture, will determine how you need to 'play the game' to get on.***
People and power
Bear with me. I'm going off-subject a little bit. You see, I used to work in projects, as a Business Change Manager. And one of the first jobs I would always do was to draw up a stakeholder map. Understanding who the stakeholders were. How much power they had over the project I was working on. Determining who to keep close tabs on, and who I could just keep informed.
***Now imagine, what would happen if you looked at your career as a project?***
A project that requires stakeholders to act on your behalf (sponsors), who you want to learn from (mentors), whose resistance you may be expecting (people who you are in competition with) or who you just have to keep informed of what you want to do.
*** And - taking that a bit further - what tactics would you employ to ensure you tell these stakeholders about your plans?***
Keep your eye out for any changes in the organisation? So that you understand who is now in charge of making decisions that affect your career?
Try to understand what each 'stakeholder' would want to know about your contributions to the organisation? Are they interested in results only? What other topics would be of interest to this particular stakeholder?
Come up with a plan to engage with them? Or at least keep them informed?
Be very specific about what you communicate to whom and what you would want that particular stakeholder to do?
Of course you would!
So there you have it. Ways to navigate the workplace. Especially for women.
Tell me. What has worked well for you when you navigated the workplace?
Is office politics holding you back in your career? In Step 1 of my Creating Career Freedom programme we will look at what is stopping you from creating the career you love.
Book your free Introduction Call to learn how I can help you make office politics work FOR rather than AGAINST you, right here - CLICK.
* And if you want to know more about the barriers for women in the workplace I highly recommend Michelle P. King's book The Fix.
Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful career transitions into work they love! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.