Some sources claim 47% of employees feel office politics decrease their productivity. Workplace dynamics can lead to a lot of stress. Most have to learn that the hard way.
Whether you’re starting your new job or changing your work environment, you know that not everything is included in the guidebook. You can capitalise on office politics if you know what you’re in for.
Defining Workplace Dynamics
Simply put, they are unwritten rules on how we engage and interact with each other. It also involves our behaviour, understandings, and the basic assumptions we make in the workplace. The truth is, everyone is seeking some amount of power in the office. Even if it just means making sure others hear your voice.
The same goes for high-school graduates seeking apprenticeships and senior managers transferring to another region. But, each position comes with a finite amount of power. Employees use that power to make things happen and get things done, according to their agenda.
It’s important to pay attention to informal, more subtle cues, as well as official rules and guidelines. In their early careers, younger employees are often intimidated by the ‘informal’. Don’t be. Do not hesitate to ask your manager for counsel.
Gerard Ferris' research can tell us a bit more about what you need to navigate the workplace:
- Apparent sincerity: appearing to be open and honest.
- Networking ability: the ability to develop and nourish mutually beneficial relations.
- Interpersonal influence: the power to influence what others think.
- Social astuteness: to be self-aware of how people see you and the ability to read others.
According to an accumulation of research, these skills can open the door to new opportunities and help you enhance your performance.
Power Dynamics: Having Power and Earning Power
Again, it’s important to differentiate between formal power and informal power. Basically, formal power comes from your rank. The respect you earn, on the other hand, gives you informal power.
It forms the company culture. Is your company dedicated to volunteerism? Or does it have a fun first focus? Power dynamics set the tone. They are not set in stone, even though they are fundamental.
Younger employees usually leverage that power the wrong way. Since they are just starting out, they don’t have anyone working under them. Then, they make the mistake of thinking that all power comes from the top down.
But, you need to strengthen relationships with people who are of the same or lesser ranks. It allows you to gain influence without a formal promotion. And, when workplace roles aren’t clearly defined, power struggles affect team roles and responsibilities.
First, you don’t want some of your coworkers to unjustly delegate work to you. Second, as you are given new tasks and promotions, you want to make sure everyone is cooperating with you.
Let’s say your superior tasks you with the corporate event management of an important company gathering. When assigning roles to coworkers of the same rank, you’d want to make sure they'll listen to you. Levering power dynamics will help you avoid constant struggles.
Some companies use personality assessments to learn how to deal with each other. It helps them deal with situations when there is a ‘formal power vacuum.’ For instance, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can help team members learn about each other’s pet peeves, preferences, etc.
Identify Key Players
Don’t assume all managers make decisions solely on fact and merit. Ask questions about how people do things in your business. You need to develop political sensitivity. Every person, including your superior, has their fears, attitudes, and values. That’s their comfort zone.
Try to stay within their comfort zone. Actions such as counterproductive lobbying and excessive arguing may put you outside of it.
Learn the Lay of the Land
There are allies and rivals at each side of your workplace dynamics. You can get a good grip on who is aligned with whom. Watch and listen:
- What are the hot buttons that set off tempers?
- Who gets invited to key meetings?
- Who is the first to know about important news and changes?
- Who is the last one?
Hone your Diplomacy Skills
Answer the previous questions, but don’t pick sides. It’s simply important to understand the players and rules. You don’t need a rival. And, you especially don’t need to pit rivals against each other.
Don’t let interpersonal conflicts interfere with your work. Acknowledge different opinions and ideas. Don’t allow them to make you too emotional. Focus your strengths on building strong and broad alliances.
This will allow you to have a foot in most camps. That way, there’s no danger of ending up on the “winning'' or “losing” side.
How to Start
If this is too much to take in, don’t worry. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. After all, there’s a good reason workplace dynamics are the subject of many studies and research. On the first day of your new job, stick to the basics.
Stick to the three Ls when communicating:
- Look at the situation from more perspectives.
- Learn from generalisations, but exercise personal observations as well.
- Listen actively, assume positive intent.
Rules of Thumb
- Let your work speak for itself.
- Don’t partake in gossip.
- Be respectful when disagreeing.
- Take a positive approach.
- Compliment, don’t criticise.
- Be helpful.
- Be respectful to others.
- Keep your area tidy.
- Knock first.
- Don’t make phone calls in common areas.
- Avoid inappropriate humour.
- Return emails and calls in a timely fashion.
- Be considerate of others’ workloads.
Workplace dynamics can be a pain in the neck sometimes. But don’t try to avoid office politics. Although it’s not the only factor, learning how to navigate workplace politics will help you enjoy your work more. You’re not a bystander. Make sure you don’t act like one.
Michael has been working in marketing for almost a decade and has worked with a huge range of clients, which has made him knowledgeable on many different subjects. He has recently rediscovered a passion for writing and hopes to make it a daily habit. You can read more of Michael's work atQeedle.