'Office politics are ... so cringe!', someone exclaimed the other day.
And you say it to me too. 'I wish I didn't have to get involved in office politics. I just want to do my job and go home'.
With the Return To Office mandates making people come back in it appear that office politics is soaring (again).
And it's making you miserable.
Not only that, it's making you lose your confidence. As the sensitive, self-aware person you are, you internalise it and start seeing it as - somehow - your fault!
You start to work even harder, make longer hours, perfect things, find strategies to work around the politics.
It's exhausting. Right?
The other day I wrote a post on LinkedIn. It was about an amazing book I read. 'Office Politics 101', one reader described it as - and it is!
What I quickly came to realise was that office politics means different things to different people.
And, most importantly, a lot of people think that there is nothing you can do, or they focus exclusively on 'the others'.
You see, this is what I found people meant when you are talking about office politics:
On an organisational level: A highly politicised environment, where narcissists can run riot. Where backstabbing, withholding information, and powerplay are not just allowed but actively encouraged and relished in by people in positions of power.
On a managerial level: Managers who should never be managers. Mean, little, narrow-minded, afraid, manipulative, incapable of human kindness, throwing you in front of the bus at every opportunity. Withholding information for power, holding your career in their hands.
Your colleagues: More of the same. Backstabbing, brown-nosing, taking credit when it should be rightfully yours, actively undermining you, gossiping.
You: Poor old you. Just stuck in the middle. Doing the best you can. In an environment that is plainly not right for you.
Am I getting close?
And yes, this CAN be your reality. And this CAN be true.
But the thing is, like everything, office politics lives on a spectrum.
On an organisational level: Yes, your office, your organisation, might be run by power-crazed lunatics. But is it? If you were to look at the organisation you work in, is it not more likely that people genuinely are trying to reach a common goal? That they - perhaps - don't have the skills, the emotional intelligence or the training to make that happen? Or do they genuinely relish in plotting and scheming, forgetting all about what they were there to do in the first place? Office politics lives on a spectrum. So how highly politicised do you believe your organisation to be on a scale of 1-5?
On a managerial level: Have you ever done a stakeholder management exercise? Where you considered who had power and who didn't? You see, people have different types and different levels of power. Because of the sheer fact that they have been given a managerial job. Or because they've been there for years and know everyone, and people listen to them. Or because they're experts or have access to information others don't. It's a useful exercise. To determine who around you can support you and your work. And who has the power to derail you, your work and your career. One we don't do often enough.
Your colleagues: And whilst you're at it, why not include your colleagues in this exercise too? Because whilst they might not have direct influence over your career, they might *just* be the one whispering in your manager's ear, or the ear of your director.
You: The writer Eckhart Tolle says it right: Not accepting the situation you're in and continuing to be frustrated is insanity. Staying angry and frustrated with your colleagues, managers and organisation? Yep. Same.
The only thing you can change is YOU and YOUR behaviour and actions.
Which means you can do three things:
1. Assess and accept your situation as it is. For now. Are you in a toxic environment? That's how it is. Are you working for a narcissist? Accept that's your situation right now.
You deserve better. Of course you do. And you WILL do something about it. Which is where we're going next.
2. Build relationships. Remember that stakeholder engagement exercise I recommended? Who has what power in your organisation? Why not do that exercise for yourself? Who REALLY has the power in your organisation? Who do you need a better relationship with? And what ACTION will you take to improve your relationship with that person?
3. Look at yourself and your behaviour. If you're honest with yourself, how have YOU been behaving?
No one behaves optimally in times of stress, so give yourself some grace. But if you're participating in toxic behaviour yourself, or if you're (part of) the problem, what can you change?
I'll say it again: the only behaviour you can change is yours.
YOUR behaviour and attitude will change other people's behaviours.
And if nothing changes there's always other environments where you'll thrive.
You're responsible for YOU, for your relationships, for your happiness.
That's what I think anyway.
Oh, and then there's of course 'thing 4' you can do:
If you genuinely have exhausted all the things to improve your situation:
You have tried to build relationships
You have taken a hard look at yourself and changed your behaviour
You are ready to move on
You would like to take this opportunity to heal, to consider what you'd like to do next, to know your strengths and your values, to grow (back) your confidence
in other words, if you want to be happy at work, well, you know where I am!
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.