Sep 22, 2016

5 Correct Attitudes to Win Politics at work

I first know about politics at work and the pain in the arse it can cause since secondary school, where students and teachers alike used to gossip about the administration antics and such. Even in my university life, we often heard tales and yes, more gossips about lecturers this admin that, rows here and arguments there and by that time I have resigned myself to the fact that there will be politics at work, regardless where I will end up. Workplace politics are inevitable and if you think by minding your own business you will be spared by it, you are horrendously mistaken.

I think it is important to have the right mindset and attitude when you go to work. We spend most of our lives working, mainly because most of us need money to live and one way of achieving that is by going to work. Other ways do exist such as stealing, having rich parents, inheriting a fortune through wills, winning lotteries, or being a politician (don't get me started). Having a job to earn for a living is the simplest, most basic fact and I may sound stupid for stating such an obvious, universal truth but people need to know that unhealthy working environment leads to being unemployed real fast. Being caught in the workplace politics leads to resentment and enmity among the colleagues, thus creating an unhealthy environment.

To further illustrate my points on how to avoid being caught in bad politics at work, I will give examples through my job. My thoughts on this can be summarized into a few well-meant-but-not-fully-proven points:

#1 - Aim to impress, not licking the ass

I am a believer in making a good first impression. It is true that a good one will have a long-lasting effect. You have to show to everyone as soon as possible that hiring you is not a mistake. Not only it will make your transition into a new working environment smooth and uncomplicated, it can also shorten your probationary periods to become a confirmed staff with all the work benefits included.

Do not get mistaken aiming to impress with butt-licking your superior's every word and action. Sometimes people are afraid to impress others because they do not want to be seen as an ass-kissing (I've been meaning to find the formal term for this but for now butt-licking/ass-kissing will do). They do have a point, actually. People hate butt-lickers because it is counter-productive to the management and to the work production in overall. It stagnates creativity and the blossoming of ideas as the only voice being heard and agreed upon is the one being butt-licked upon. Remember: impress, not lick ass.

"I hate to lick it but I need to do it"

If you think by butt-licking your boss you can get into their good books, well, you may be right. But being like by one person and hated by dozens around you is not a great idea. Career advancement can only carry you so far without support and acceptance from your co-workers. It can actually worsen your work performance when the team dynamic is being disrupted by your butt-licking every time the meeting takes place.

So, without appearing or sounding like a butt-licker, how to make a good impression?

#2 - Be punctual, everyday

This is the continuation of the first point but it is also a separate point on its own. This is one of my principles, perhaps indoctrinated into me by my father who is a stickler for punctuality. I have to thank him for that because now I get really restless if I am not on time.

To be punctual, you don't have to be early all the time. It is sufficient to just never come late to work. People will notice if you started to come late at work, particularly if you are new. They will say to you, or talk behind you, that if even as a newcomer you have started coming late to work, over the months or years working there you may even stop coming to work, or to come and go as you please.

Believe me, they do happen as I have witnessed multiple time the the topic of punctuality being gossiped about in my workplace. And once people label you as a latecomer, they will trust you less with important jobs as you will appear unreliable (no, you really are one) to handle the tasks within the time frame.

To train yourself into a punctual person you need discipline and a good time management. As a general rule, I allocated 30 minutes to 1 hour of time of departure early to make sure I can arrive to my destination on time. Sometimes unexpected delays like traffic jam, road accidents, or car breakdown happened and when you plan to get to your destination on time without taking into account such delays, you are sure to be late.

It does not have to be 30 minutes or 1 hour for every little thing you do. Plan your time accordingly. Never plan your time without leaving some free period in between your daily events.

#3 - Be nice to everybody, even if you don't like them

A simple piece of tips but not so simple to do, isn't it? Believe me, I know.

At first, I can get along with everybody. Generally speaking, I want to be looked as someone who is friendly and approachable, because being liked by everybody is like a dream to me (for I am hard to like) and it actually, at first, made my first month working there smooth without a hiccough.

But when you don't like what your colleagues are doing, whether to you or to others, it is hard to maintain that friendliness. I really don't like nonsense of any sort, so when I see things that are not of my liking, I will noticed them fast and frown upon it. And so if you happen to fall into this situation, there are two options, really, to go on.

One - You rant about it to another person. Sure, maybe once or twice even I rant to other people because I feel so annoyed. It makes you feel better, especially when the people you rant to added something to the rant and incite the hate flame bigger. But there is a risk to rant. If you can't trust your confidant completely to not rat you out, do not rant to them in the first place. You never know how far your rant can travel from person to person, and personally from my own experience, if you can talk about other person behind their back, there is no reason people would not talk behind your back (hint: they do).

Two - Acceptance. You just accept the fact that some things are beyond your control and that you have to deal with whatever that irritates you the best that you can. It takes a strength of character to accept the flaws in others and to make it work with what you have. I have tried this when I found out that I was being taken advantage of and I learnt that the management is like that (I won't disclose this further, but suffice to say I was pissed off about it) but when I talked to them I acted like nothing happened and strictly keep my conversations with them work-related. If you do this often enough, you will be able to separate your work professionalism from your personal vendetta.

#4 - Have a voice of your own and make your stand heard

Don't be afraid to say something, even when you think your ideas are not bright enough. Voicing out your opinion or stand is very important in workplace politics and I will tell you why.

Superiors actually like you better when you speak up during meetings or when they are around. You don't have to come up with a 5-year development plan to speak up; sometimes your ideas may not be great and may even be downright impractical but it shows that you are actually thinking of something. It also show your attempt at contributing to the team and believe me, sometimes by just speaking up they feel a sense of gratitude that people are engaging with them. 

When you have an issue with something or there are concerns that are related to the work, try talking to your superiors - they would feel that their inferiors trusted them seeing that you came to them in the first place and it makes them think they are connected well with their inferiors.

Another important reason why you have to speak up is to let other people identify you with your principles or stands. Mankind are nothing without a sense of principles, and people who don't have a mind of their own and have their principles easily swayed by other things are the worst of the worst. When you make yourself heard, you are still susceptible to dirty politics at workplace, but they won't get to bully you. 

For instance, one of my superiors likes to eat breakfast from the nearby fast food restaurant, and since I walk to workplace everyday passing the restaurant, she asked me to order takeaway food for her the next day. I obliged seeing that it won't take long and it was not a big deal. But when the next day came, I noticed that the restaurant's service was too slow and when I'm done it nearly caused me to be penalized for being late. So I said to her that that would be the last time I bought food for her by stating that 1) our store is not that far from the restaurant so why can't she walk there herself? and 2) I hate being late to work and I won't be late just to buy her food. At first she tried to argue that it won't cost me anything and it was a small thing to do but when she saw that I was adamant to it she finally relented. 

That, my dear readers, is a win situation for me, and it happened because I made myself heard.

#5 - Remember your role, position, and place in the hierarchy of the food chain

The last piece of advice today is to carefully know what you can and cannot do in the workplace. One of the commonly bad practice at work is when someone overexert their position by challenging the superiors and not doing their tasks because they think it is beneath them.

It is easy to make this mistake when you have been working at one place for a long time. Once you became familiar with your working environment and get comfortable with your colleagues and superiors, sometimes we become complacent and forget the lines between superiors and subordinate, tasks and favors.

Don't be like Dwight, guys. Be like Jim.

For instance, there's a senior sales assistant in my workplace who is very opinionated and loud. She does her work quite okay but as to err is human, mistakes do happen. When something goes wrong or not in place, she will question very loudly and occasionally order other people (aka me) to correct it. It makes the supervisor quite cross with her as it is actually a supervisor's job to tell people the dos and don'ts etc and not her. Sometimes even the supervisor will be told off by her, and that annoyed her to no end.

It comes to a point where the supervisor now has a hard time in thinking of ways to inform her subordinates work-related issues for she does not like that one person from talking back. It is a strained relationship between them and when it happened, I noticed that one person will talk about the other person behind their back with other people and vice versa. From my point of view, this issue stems from two things: 1) that senior sales assistant forgets her place, and 2) that supervisor has not exercised her superiority correctly when dealing with her subordinates.

So remember your place, people, and don't overexert or misuse your role in the working team.

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I am sure there is a lot of other things you can think of to avoid being caught in the workplace politics. The setting and the environment might differ from one profession to another, but the essence is pretty much the same. Why? Because we are dealing with people, and every person acts the same in a community. Add together the stress of the work and the peculiar behaviors some people exhibit, there are infinite recipes to spice up the politics playing in the workplace. Never forget to ask for help if you are in a bad situation, and be strong, always, because every workplace has its own dark alleys.

Good luck and all the best.

PS: It is a good practice to never allow your colleagues add you as friends on social media, as you can probably surmise from reading this post.

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