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Top 5 Ways a Manager Should Manage Office Politics

For many, the term “office politics” immediately invokes the image of clean-cut professionals in finely-pressed suits shaking hands while hiding daggers behind their backs. Lying, credit stealing, and betrayal have all become hallmarks of the struggle for power in the workplace. But is the office really so Machiavellian? Although office politics is about achieving power at work, it’s important stop and think about what exactly is meant by “power”. Some wrongfully associate power with the ability to control people, but that’s a simplistic – and pessimistic – interpretation. In the workplace, power is really about one’s ability to get the cooperation they need to accomplish their job’s goals. And being in a managerial position, it’s safe to say that you realize backstabbing and deceit are not good ways of getting things done. If anything, they create a psychologically unsafe workplace, which opens up a whole other can of worms.

Still, despite your wisdom, your reports – particularly the younger ones – may not realize that office politics is really about making “connections”, not “allies”; “strategies”, not “plans of attack.” Don’t let war-like rhetoric and winner-loser attitudes infiltrate the psyches of your team, sabotaging both their productivity and yours (particularly since it’ll have you spending a good chunk of your time quelling coworker conflict). Here are the top 5 ways of keeping the peace:

  1. Identify the natural leaders
    Charisma is a major factor in office politics in that those who have it naturally attract friends and supporters. Just as getting to know the individuals on your team is important, so is getting to know the natural personality dynamics that govern how they work together outside of your direct supervision.
  2. Consider how you assess performance
    Your office should be a meritocracy. Those who perform well should be rewarded with recognition and new opportunities. Of course, you’ll only really know who’s performing well if your methods of judging performance make sense. Part of this is setting clear, individual goals that employees are expected to achieve, or benchmarks they’re expected to meet. Although your team has to work together to successfully complete projects, each member should be held accountable for their role in the project. To defuse freeloading, meet with each member one-on-one regularly throughout a project and get them to explain what they’ve been working on and how it’s affected the project.
  3. Maintain an open-door policy
    Another way of undercutting toxic office politics is to ensure that everyone on your team feels comfortable enough to come talk to you when they need to. If you seem distant or unapproachable, your reports will shy away from telling you about instances of intimidation or feelings of manipulation carried out by someone else on your team. Their uneasiness will only build, affecting their performance and the performance of everyone else. They may even end up leaving the organization, which leaves you with the headache – and costs – of trying to fill their role.
  4. Don’t confuse self-promotion with pride
    It’s common nowadays – and also very much encouraged – for employees to talk about their accomplishments. However, doing so requires the right time and place (such as one-on-one performance reviews and when called upon in team meetings). Unfortunately, some employees aren’t so tactful, and they can sound like they’re bragging when they’re just trying to ensure they’re recognized for their work. The real challenge is in knowing when someone – be they tactful or not – is lying, attempting to take credit for someone else’s work. One-on-one meetings will draw attention to any inconsistencies in their story (especially if you hear two different people say they performed the same task) that require further investigation, and enforcing individual benchmarks for major projects should make such deceit difficult.
  5. Communicate
    Another safeguard against poisonous office politics among employees is to regularly communicate, not just in one-on-one meetings and performance reviews, but through a variety of media on a regular basis about everything that can affect the mood of a workplace, be it the results of a specific project or a merger or acquisition. Of course, for these communications to be effective, you must choose the right channel and the right tone depending on the message. Trying to avoid those challenges, however, by saying little or nothing at all is much worse as it will breed insecurity, suspicion, rivalries, and antagonism. When everyone is confident that they will learn important information that in a timely, forthright, and sensitive fashion, they’ll feel confident not only in you, their leader, but in the organization as a whole such that they’ll see no need to fret, flee, revolt, or go rogue.
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