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

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