3 Strategies for Navigating Messy Office Politics

Politics is simply the process, done well or poorly, of divvying up whatever there is too little of for everybody to have all they want.

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By Jeff Boss


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Nobody likes being the bad guy. Well, not most people anyway. The fastest route toward friendship isn't telling others they can't do something or -- even worse -- that you won't do what they want.

But that's the point. Business isn't about finding new Facebook friends with whom to share what you had for lunch. Business is about getting things done. However, accomplishing tasks and projects efficiently and effectively requires the self awareness, and situational awareness, to know which personalities to leverage for maximum effect and which ones to avoid like a bowl of fiber before running a marathon.

"Business politics'' refers to the strategies people use to gain support for themselves or for a cause. It typically has a negative connotation because it infers somebody must lose for others to win. Navigating politics is art because competing interests, personal agendas, networks and alliances all represent hidden decision criteria. Just think of the competing interests between sales and marketing teams. Sales wants to quantify orders whereas marketing wants to qualify the emotional appeal to the customer. They both serve the company but pose competing interests to each other.

Related: 5 Ways to Respond to Negative, Evil Emails

There are multiple interests and implications to consider when approaching strategic challenges. While your business may be structured in silos, the resolutions to which each business unit arrives have systemic effects. Work is achieved interdependently, not independently. If you don't understand how a project or initiative influences each person or their business unit's interest, then one of four things will happen to your project. It will be prolonged, repeated, duplicated or eliminated.

Don't let the minefield of office politics bog you down. Consider these three strategies when navigating your company's political waters:

1. Clarify the business goal.

Each business unit has its own goals. The challenge comes when the goals of each silo don't converge to what corporate has identified as "success," mainly because senior leaders aren't clearly yet themselves. If there isn't a clear picture of what winning looks like then business initiatives will look like a party popper that shoots out confetti -- individual and team efforts are all flying in different directions.

If you're unclear on what the defined definition of success looks like, ask. Getting clarity saves time, money and mindshare. According to one study, Deloitte found that monthly goal focus catapulted companies into the top 10 percent of performance among their peer group. Workboard, a mobile app that helps leaders clarify goals and align their teams, found that spending just 45 minutes per week on goal clarification enabled people to achieve over 85 percent of their intended results.

Related: 9 Things Successful People Won't Do

2. Put the phone away.

There's nothing worse than talking with someone who constantly checks their phone, or presenting in a meeting while people are texting or checking email. Aside from being just downright rude, the lack of focus inhibits performance.

There's no such thing as multi-tasking, only slivers of time in which focus is applied. People like to be heard (it serves their human need to feel important). When feel like nobody is listening tensions arise, communication stalls and conflict ensues. Do yourself -- and them -- favor and pay attention. Whatever text message is coming through at the moment can wait. If it can't (i.e. a life or death matter) then be sure to communicate the "why'' behind your actions. Without information, people assume the worst and create their own interpretations.

Related: How Successful People Stay Calm

3. Look them in the eye.

Along similar lines, people who maintain eye-contact are not only well-received by their audience but also viewed as more believable. For one-on-one conversations, keeping eye contact between seven to ten seconds is ideal. That's just enough to be comfortable but not so long it gets weird. Looking away before the seven second mark can convey one of two things: a lack of self-confidence or a lack of trust--both of which are essential to building relationships and garnering support.

How you choose to show up is a direct reflection of who you are, and people do business with others who they like, know and trust. Getting clarity on goals and being present and focused tells the other person you're ready for business.

Jeff Boss

Leadership Team Coach, Author, Speaker

Jeff Boss is the author of two books, team leadership coach and former 13-year Navy SEAL where his top awards included four Bronze Stars with valor and two Purple Hearts. Visit him online at www.jeff-boss.com

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