Women tend to avoid office politics. Two experts explain why you should be embracing your inner Hillary Clinton.
Sometimes at work it can seem like you’re re-living the worst of your school days. There are cliques and rivalries. The popular girl attracts all the attention; your erstwhile best friend teams up with a new BFF; your frenemy earns the accolades instead of you.
No wonder women are reluctant to engage in office politics. Studies show that the majority of female managers and employees are so opposed, some describe the conscious manoeuvring for status and influence as “evil”.
According to 2 of New Zealand’s most respected business coaches, however, it’s a necessary evil. One that can be tough to master, but brings tangible career rewards.
Loretta Brown, Director of NZ Coaching Mentoring Centre, specialises in the professional development of leaders. Her opinion is unequivocal: “Often female managers say they ‘don’t want to play political games’. This is naïve. Office politics are about power. Power is a reality in organisational and community life, and all managers have to navigate it to achieve their goals.”
Loretta’s top tips for aspiring office politicos
Map the territory
“Identify and understand alliances, and the potential blocks to your goals. Stakeholder mapping can help identify who’s involved in an issue and who the influencers are.”
Be part of the conversation
“True decision-making happens outside meetings. Join in pre- and post-meeting conversations. One senior manager I worked with complained that other managers were wasting time chatting and going off for coffee. When we explored the role of influencing, this manager realised that she needed to be part of these informal conversations as well as attending meetings. She saw that it could be an important investment in time.”
“Get inside other people’s worlds. Try to ascertain what their goals are. Office politics are really about working with multiple perspectives in any situation. Influencing powerfully means working with those perspectives.”
Find your own ways to work with the situation
Career and life coach Allison Fisher (allisonfisher.co.nz) agrees that office politics are simply part of being in an organisation. “Stop trying to fight it! Instead, find your own ways to work with the situation.” Her advice:
Value your values
“You need to understand what really matters to you, and work in an organisation that meets those values. Only then will you be motivated enough to play politics.”
“Don’t hold back on telling influencers at the company about what you’re achieving. It can be business successes, insightful conversations you’ve had with clients, or positive news about members of your team.
“I deal with a lot of introverts who can find it difficult to speak up about themselves. So I suggest they find a mentor who’s willing to share their communication tactics.”
“Develop a strategy that includes what position in the company you’d eventually like to attain. Strategise for informal situations, such as a casual chat when you’re making a cup of tea, and formal situations like team meetings and performance reviews. Make sure key people are hearing about you from others, and appreciate what you contribute.”