Savvy, not sell-out (navigating office politics)

genuine-stampThroughout my career – in HR and otherwise – I have encountered numerous people who insisted that they don’t believe in office politics.

Well, to paraphrase Neil deGrasse Tyson, it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in office politics. They still exist. And if you want to be successful in your job, regardless of level, you are going to have to figure out how to deal with them.

The number one thing people need to remember when dealing with office politics is that you CAN still be “you” while adjusting your style to fit the situation. I’ve talked to employees and leaders alike who claim they would be a fake if they were anything else but fully authentic.  Here’s the thing – there’s “authentic” and AUTHENTIC. The first kind involves flexibility with staying aligned with your values, and successful professionals typically practice that.  The second kind involves a loud, in-your-face, I-gotta-be-me approach that people who use psych profiles (think DiSC) to justify being pushy. (“I’m a D, dammit!! I’m supposed to be that way!”)

In order to be successful in business, you are going to have to figure out how to navigate the politics of any organization’s culture. I use the word “politics” deliberately, as the players each have an agenda they are trying to advance. Some of these agendas are altruistic, some completely selfish – but they all compete even if they ostensibly strive to meet the same goals.  That’s why you are going to have to learn to play this game.

So how do you play without losing yourself in the fray? By knowing how to be savvy without being a sellout, and without being your overly AUTHENTIC self. Check out these scenarios:

  • Boss suggests a course of action that you don’t think is going to work:
    • Overly AUTHENTIC response: That’s a terrible idea that won’t work.  Let me tell you why.
    • Sell-out response: You’re the boss.  We’ll make that happen.
    • Savvy response: That’s definitely an option. Have we thought about X, Y, Z?
  • Executives begin arguing with each other about small details in your business proposal:
    • Overly AUTHENTIC response: Are we really going to spend time talking about this now?
    • Sell-out response: Sure, we can do that. You guys just tell us what you want and we’ll do it.
    • Savvy response: It sounds like we have some details to work out. Do we have an agreement in the general direction and we can talk about the small details off-line? Or maybe, Would it be helpful to see the full proposal before delving into the details? Maybe your questions will be answered.
  • Coworker becomes overly aggressive/belligerent in a meeting:
    • Overly AUTHENTIC response: Oh, you did NOT just say that to me!!! (typically accompanied by a waving finger)
    • Sell-out response: Hey, hey…we can do whatever you want to do. Let’s just all try to get along
    • Savvy response: I can see that you’re upset, and that’s not my intention. What are your concerns?

Notice a trend in these responses? The savvy response is all about finding a solution without losing ground. It’s about focusing on the issue and not on the person (either you OR the other party). You can adjust the Savvy Response to be in your voice, and in fact, you should.  The more it sounds like you, the more likely the others in the room will listen and less you’ll feel like you’re selling out to the pressures in the situation.

So the next time you’re in a politically-charged situation, be prepared to translate your overly AUTHENTIC response into one that will ensure you’re heard and one that moves towards a solution.  And you don’t even have to sell your soul to do it.

 Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency, and integrity.
~ Janet Louise Stephenson

The truth will set you free…but first it will piss you off.
~ Unknown

Leaders: Don’t be an asshole

Whether you want it or not, the title of ‘leader’ comes with more than more responsibility and more headaches. It also comes with a lot power – or at the very least, perceived power.

This perception may not come from your peers or from the power that be. It comes from your direct reports. In their world, you’re kind of a big deal. You can hire, fire, write up, praise, assign work – in short, make their lives great or miserable.

And you thought you were just some middle manager. dibboss

Now that you’re drunk with power and omnipotence, listen up.

Don’t be an asshole.

Sometimes it’s tempting to throw all that power around, particularly when you’ve had a bad day or just came out of a meeting where you were made to feel like a powerless employee. Just…don’t.

The thing is, your actions resonate loudly as a leader – and nowhere loudest than with your people.

In case you can’t possibly think of how you’re being an asshole, here are some ways asshole status might be achieved and how to avoid being “that manager.” (And notice, being an asshole doesn’t always mean being belligerent.):

  • Ignore them: Employees like to be noticed.  If you’re in the office, stop by a few times.
  • Yell at them: Seriously. Yelling is what happens when you can’t use your words. And it’s unacceptable.
  • Forget what it’s like to be new at something: Leaders need patience. Everyone was new at something once, so take a breath and coach them to competence.
  • Take credit for their work: That’s downright crappy. They worked hard – they deserve the credit.
  • Give them the blame: Guess what? Their failures are your failures. Do you hold them accountable for their actions? Absolutely! But finger pointing is classic asshole behavior.
  • Wait too long to give feedback: Don’t surprise them with a bad review or corrective action. You owe it to your people to give them a chance to get better.

It really boils down to this – remember that boss you once had that was a total asshole?

Don’t be that boss.

It’s as simple as that.

The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate you away from those who are still undecided.

Be careful what you wish for…your voice WILL be heard

As employees, we have a list of grievances – or demands, if you prefer – that we carry in our heart and in our head at all times.

  • No one ever asks me what I think.
  • I never get to work on the big projects.
  • The executives don’t even know who I am!
  • My boss is constantly checking on me. Just leave me alone and let me do my job.

Sound familiar?

Complaining is the lifeblood of the American worker.  If we didn’t have work to complain about, we’d be forced to deal with something else. Like our unhealthy addiction to Laffy Taffy (don’t judge me).

So let’s say you had the opportunity to speak up. And I’m talking about a leadership team who really wants to hear your feedback and input (not some snarky attempt to check off the “listen to your people” box).green_soapbox

Someone finally asks you what you think.  Someone looks to you for some big ideas. Someone gives you free reign to propose a solution to all the problems you’ve been pointing out for so long.

Are you ready to respond? Because you may only get one shot at this.

It can hurt your credibility when you’re not able to rise to the occasion. Responding from a place of emotion rather than giving specific examples of what has happened that negatively impacts the organization, the focus is no longer on the issues – it’s squarely on you. And if you don’t respond AT ALL, you risk never being asked for your opinion again.

No one is looking for a perfectly formed 12 point plan to address the issues.  Your leaders are just asking you to articulate your concerns in a way that shows you have thought about the problem…you know, beyond how much it impacts you personally. Leaders KNOW it impact you. That’s why you keep bringing it up. So what are you gonna do about it?

If you want a voice and have a say in formulating a solution to the issues your team faces, try the following:

  • Self-monitor: Take note of how often you complain and how you might be perceived by others. What others might agree with in the beginning might become background noise in the long run.
  • Listen to others: Issues may not impact others the same way they impact you. And others may lend perspective that you don’t have.  So hush up and see what they have to say.
  • Stick to the facts: Emotions can run high, particularly if a group feels like no one has been listening to them up to this point.  Leaders tend to shut down the instant employees argue emotion rather than factual impact.
  • Be honest without being mean: Leaders want candor. They don’t want anger. Don’t let the message be lost in the way you deliver it. Attack the issue, not the person. You CAN be respectful and be frank.
  • Be solution-focused: We all vent. A lot. It’s pretty easy to point out all the things that are wrong. Leaders ask for your opinion because they want to hear from the people on the front-lines. Use your day-to-day knowledge to suggest solutions no one in leadership would think of.

So the next time you complain that no one ever listens to you, don’t be surprised if leadership starts asking for your opinion.

Will you be ready?