Don’t like workplace politics? You can still help yourself.
Updated: May 20
I haven’t talked to anyone who likes workplace politics. However, I caution people to not use the negative perception and experiences as a roadblock for taking actions that can help their career.
Workplace politics can show up as actions that demonstrate favoritism or inequity towards others. You find out you weren’t included in certain meetings and conversations, you are not hearing about new roles before they are filled, or you are hearing inaccurate rumors about yourself. Sometimes, leaders create these types of actions because there is a lack of awareness of how they are affecting others. Sometimes, leaders create these actions intentionally. Regardless of the reasons, there are actions you can take to mitigate office politics and better position yourself to be thought of and included in activities that align with your strength, interests, and career goals. Examples of actions are:
Be deliberate in sharing information with your leader: When you meet with your leader to discuss progress on work, it is a good idea to schedule time on a quarterly or six-month basis to share information such as what you are enjoying, what activities align with your strengths, and what activities you would like to pursue that enhance your skills to be considered for future leadership roles. Ask your leader what you should be doing more of or less of that would demonstrate your readiness for new roles. Clarify where you need to build stronger relationships with leaders and peers to enhance your network and visibility. This type of conversation demonstrates your ownership and accountability for your growth and development.
Gather feedback from trusted sources: Reach out to peers, mentors, and trusted advocates you know will offer you honest feedback about the skills you need to develop, the peers and leaders you need to know, and if others’ perceptions of your capabilities and reputation are in or out of alignment with the roles you desire. This step is especially important if you don’t have a manager you trust.
Be clear about your brand and share it deliberately: Your brand is yours to own. If you don’t deliberately manage your message and communicate it consistently, how others perceive you can be incomplete. You want to share information such as your unique strengths, what you are known for, what you enjoy, and how your experience can be valuable to the individual you are talking to. You can’t assume your work will create your reputation and speak for itself. When peers and leaders ask you what you want to do or what is next, your brand message needs to be clear so they understand the types of efforts you want to lead and the value you offer. This clarity provides them understanding of where you may fit within their team or recommend other individuals you should speak to that need someone with your experience. An example of sharing your brand with a leader is:
(Describe what you are doing) I’ve always been in senior positions where I need to bring people together from different service teams to work on strategic talent programs. The programs have high visibility with our senior leaders and board, as well as regional offices. Recently, I’ve led efforts that address wide-reaching issues such as the hybrid work environment or the restructuring of our onboarding programs for the new acquisition.
(Known for) I’m known for being able to implement comprehensive talent programs, connect the right people to support and move the effort forward, and bring the strategic insight that ensures our internal programs align with the leadership priorities.
(Request) I would appreciate being considered for your talent programs that need a leader that can handle high-stakes programs and provide strategy, implementation, and the ability to harness the right resources.
Build relationships with peers and leaders who are being asked to regularly lead efforts: There are always a group of peers and leaders that seem to be tapped regularly to lead a new initiative. This group of people have the visibility and leadership support to create change. Build authentic relationships with select leaders within this group. You don’t need to know everyone in an organization, but you need to align with someone within this group that exhibits similar values, vision, and ethics that are important to you. Initiate a meeting or conversation where you express your observation of how they have led efforts, what makes you interested in those efforts, and request to be considered for future opportunities. An example of the conversation could be:
(Express your observation) I enjoyed hearing about the new client work that your team won in the All Hands meeting. Congratulations on the big win. I appreciate the way you build strong teams in new markets with our large clients. (What makes you interested) I’ve been working on similar supply chain work for XYZ client and was part of leading the team that evaluated and implemented new processes for their retail business. I’m known for managing new client relationships and establishing a level of trust that helps our business grow with the client’s needs. (Make the request) As you look for experienced leadership resources to join this effort, I’d like to be considered and would appreciate talking with you or one of your team leaders to learn more about this project.
I don’t believe “playing” politics is as valuable as being clear about how you manage your career. Take ownership of what you can control. You can create opportunities to highlight your strengths and accomplishments, to build strategic and deliberate relationships, and to develop access to information that informs you about your reputation and upcoming opportunities that you can pursue. If you believe this isn’t possible in your current situation and your conscious actions aren’t producing consistent and desired results, it may be time to consider what type of organization and culture may fit better for you.
Janeen Shaffer is a PCC certified coach helping individuals and leaders with their internal development and external performance. If the article resonated with you, follow me on LinkedIn and check my other articles. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.shaffercoach.com, IG @janeen.shaffer, Pinterest Shaffer Coaching + Consulting.