Getting ahead at work is a challenge for most of us, and it often seems like the ‘winners’ aren’t necessarily the ones who deserve it. The reality is that the workplace is complex to navigate, and there is more to it than subject matter expertise – you need a range of other skills too. Leveraging those skills in an astute way can make a significant difference to your career success.
The good news is that the skills that make some people rise through the ranks seemingly effortlessly can be learnt. Sure, some of your colleagues will be innately better at navigating the office politics than others, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t level the playing field.
–The question is: how do you do it if your golf swing sucks?
Well, we thought we’d help you out with some handy tips on what to focus on.
Change your attitude
Most people tend to have a negative view of politics, equating it to backstabbing and manipulation, but it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Try to see it as a natural, positive part of work, a tool to help you along. Just like in the world of politics, the activities conducted by individuals can be positive, both for you as an individual, for your team and even the company at large.
Work on your political savvy
How can you engage in something you don’t understand? A lot of people in the world of tech spend their time at work intensively focused on the what’s in front of them. This often leads to missing out on what goes on around them. You don’t have to become a corporate anthropologist, but try to spend some time observing the social aspects of your workplace. Who engages with whom? Is it frequent? Where does it take place? Who isn’t involved in those interactions?
The idea is to try to figure out which networks exist and then using that knowledge to your advantage. It may be about inserting oneself into a social occasion or being able to chat about a particular topic.
Become an office influencer
To be able to influence people in the workplace, as well as in life, is something that once mastered will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. And the quicker you get better at it, the quicker it will serve you. A good starting point is subject matter expertise – if you are seen as the go-to expert on a particular topic, you already have a degree of influence. But you also need to know how to leverage it.
Often, the reason people support you and your ideas in a work context is that they like you. So it goes without saying that you need to build relationships with the people around you to achieve anything. In building a rapport with people, be mindful of your tone, mannerism, and body language. Your objective is to build and maintain good relations, in order to leverage them when the time is right.
A good way to make sure you progress is to create a campaign strategy of sorts. Figure out who is who in the organisation, and how you are able to influence them. How will you get into position to do so? Do you need other people’s help? Who are they? How do you get to know them?
Get to know people (a.k.a. networking)
It may not come naturally to you, or even fill you with dread, but without the ability to make interpersonal connections and developing relations you will find advancement an uphill struggle. Some people can do it effortlessly (or so it seems) whilst other people freeze, but it is largely a skill that you can improve and learn.
In the case of office politics and getting ahead at work, the people you need to access are all in already existing formal or informal networks. By now you should have a good handle on who they are, what the networks are and who else is in them. If not, mapping them out at this point will be a great help.
One thing to keep in mind is that the networking in the office, or the company you work in, is slightly different to the type you do at events. In the office, it’s more about the long game, and it can pay off to spend the time to build up a rapport on the fringe of a network, whilst working towards your goal.
Mind your integrity
Mind where you put your foot when you’re on your way up. As you work away on your plan of world office domination, developing relationships with people that you use for your own gain, don’t forget your humble beginnings. The point of rising through the ranks is to exercise effective leadership, and that is much easier if the people you lead respect you for the right reasons. –Or as Amy Cuddy, an associate professor at Harvard University puts it: “warmth is the conduit of influence”.