Workplace Politics: Why What You Think Doesn’t Matter But What You Know, Does
If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely been a victim of workplace politics in whatever way, shape or form they’ve manifested themselves in your professional life. That doesn’t mean, however, that this daily game of professional chess has to rule your life. Instead, I’m going to provide you with a few ways to win at workplace politics and why what you think about it doesn’t matter, but what you know about it, does.
Workplace Politics From The Beginning
To kick things off and make this an official article, let’s define, in our own terms, what workplace politics actually is.
To begin, no matter what you do for a living, workplace politics will always be something you will have to deal with. I like to define workplace politics as our unavoidable battle with the sickness that is human nature. I’m sorry, but avoiding this plague is very unrealistic as we daily suffer from it’s symptoms. There is no way around it. The mentality of going against others to try to achieve what we want, professionally, resonates from near the beginning of time and is even highlighted in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.
In the book of Genesis in the Bible, chapter four, the story of Cain and Abel continues after their birth,
“ So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part, also brought the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain, and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.”
After God explained to Cain that his offering was unacceptable, Cain became angry and killed his brother Abel out of rage and jealousy.
Now, I’m not trying to pretend to be a biblical scholar here, but I’d like to draw a parallel for a moment.
In our professional lives, we are all accountable to someone above us to present our best work and offer our best attitudes in service to a common cause or end result. Now, let me make a disclaimer that no leader is equal to God, but the principal of what Cain did and what people today do to their professional brothers and sisters is very similar.
The primary driver for this that we’re looking for here is simply, jealousy.
Cain was jealous of his brother Abel and the offering he made. Today, many individuals that we may work with lack confidence in themselves and their own abilities and are easily threatened by others. This leads to jealousy and eventually leads to the insecure worker trying to take out the confident worker for one of the following reasons:
- The insecure worker has been placed in the wrong position. Many times, people in the workforce bite off more than they can chew by lying on their resumes and in interviews, or taking on jobs that they cannot mentally or physically handle. Feeling cornered by other, more capable workers, they lash out and try to eliminate them from succeeding in their jobs to compensate for their own shortcomings.
- The insecure worker sees the confident worker as a usurper. Many times, as a result of truly knowing that they are not meant to be in the job they’ve taken, the insecure worker loses motivation for trying to deliver an exemplary product. Depression and anxiety kicks in and the exemplary worker is the target of the insecure worker’s mental fear network. The confident worker’s motives, in the insecure’s eyes, is to completely ruin their life by embarrassment and daily frustration.
Many times workers believe that workplace politics is completely avoidable and if not avoidable, they can live with it because they think they know how to avoid it.
I can confidently tell you that this train of thought is 100% incorrect, and here’s why.
Workplace Politics: Why What You Think Doesn’t Matter, But What You Know, Does
The battle against human nature will never be won by human hands. Even though you may think that you can avoid the lash out of an insecure worker, you cannot. In the day to day of professional life, you will always be at the mercy of another person. No matter how much you try to put your head in the sand, you will inevitably have to interact with others.
This is why it is so important to pay attention to others, and not necessarily “act” out against workplace political moves, but in stead, be ready to “react” against moves that may come your way.
Here’s what you need to know about workplace politics that will help you navigate the channel of human nature every day:
- Pull your head out of the sand. The most essential thing for you to do is to stop ignoring the fact that workplace politics happens to everyone, everywhere and is an unavoidable experience when you work with others. Accept the fact that it exists, and be willing and active participant. This doesn’t mean that you have to take a spot on the front line, but always be aware of what’s happening around you.
- Never underestimate the power of personalities. I can tell you that the rainbow of work personalities comes in colors you may have never seen before. Nothing ceases to amaze me when it comes to how people think and react, which is why it is essential to observe and learn the personalities of those you work with. Understand how to approach them if you need something or how to speak with them if they’re having a bad day. Having a Ph.D. in how others around you think and behave will greatly increase your ability to influence others — preventing strife or creating opportunities for advancement.
- Don’t engage in battle unless you’re confident you’ll win the war. This is a big one. So many times, we allow our emotions to get the best of us while we’re working. Someone makes us upset or has an issue with what you’ve done. Too often we show our cards to the other players by becoming frustrated or lashing back after an incoming blow. Don’t ever engage in a battle unless you’re confident that you’ll win the war. It’s always better to step aside or step back and slowly build your case to win a potential war, rather than be the victor of a single battle.
- Listen, watch and take notes. As sad as this is to say, 99% of what you hear in the office from others is most likely true. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to participate by spreading the continued gossip (in fact, that’s the worst thing you can do), but what you can do is take notes and watch. It’s always better to be on the upswing of a blow than to be on the bottom of one.
- Build strategic alliances or dig your grave. People are social creatures — it’s how we were designed. If you’re a passionate introvert, be ware. Not forming relationships with others will eventually not be a hand played in your favor. Even if they’re not in your department, make it a point to try to meet a new person at your job, or within a network, at least twice monthly. Not only will you find yourself with an invaluable network of supporters, but also with many options to find new, lush pastures if you happen to suddenly find yourself in the middle of a desert.
These tips are just the basics to define why what you know is more important than what you think about workplace politics. What’s even more important, is not just to know what’s been provided to you, but to apply it.