If you hope to succeed as a professional communicator, you must spend up to half your time engaged in office politics.
I recently gave that advice to a starry-eyed idealist new to her job. That was not what she wanted to hear, though. As a young professional, she dreamed of rising above the political fray and focusing on pure communications. (Oh, what they don’t teach you in school!)
Success in communications requires that you be a savvy politician. Politics, by my definition, is amoral. In other words, it’s neither good nor bad. Politics is how things get done. When you engage in workplace politics, you can either build or you can destroy. Your choice.
Here are several ways I attempt to use office politics to help me succeed as a marketing communications professional:
- Create necessary alliances. Business thrives on partnerships and collaboration. I always want to work on important projects that are much bigger than I can accomplish on my own. Success requires that we align our resources and work together to create the synergy to get the job done.
- Think win-win. If one of us loses, we all lose. I look for ways to help others succeed, though I’m not shy about establishing boundaries and defining what a win looks like on my side of the equation.
- Focus on projects worth doing. I’m only human and can never accomplish everything. Therefore, I must prioritize my work. Negotiating during the prioritization process is very important. Call it politics, if you like, but I try to build a consensus among my co-workers and especially my boss regarding what projects are most important.
- Be efficient without taking shortcuts. Short-term compromises seldom contribute to long-term gains. I prefer to focus on what is right, not what is quick or easy. Politicians should never be satisfied with duct-tape solutions.
- Celebrate success publicly. People aspire to be part of a winning team, so I look for ways to celebrate what we’ve collectively accomplished. I also try to give public credit to those individuals who contributed to the team’s success.
- Coach and give feedback privately. I used to cringe when I’d receive an email from a former co-worker. When she had something nice to say (which she rarely did) she would say it privately, in person. When she wanted to voice a criticism, she would document it via email and copy several others. Needless to say, I was always on guard around her and I never considered her to be a political ally.
- Be inclusive. I’m not much interested in titles, positions or organizational status. I invite people to the party based on their authentic desire to contribute, to create options and to make things happen. I like to be surrounded by winners, and I’m very inclusive when it comes to selecting my political allies.
- Be exclusive. Every organization has naysayers who make excuses, blame others for their failure and enjoy being the devil’s advocate. I tend to exclude them from my inner circle. Usually they are working against the team, not for it.
- Value diversity. I value the differences I find in the people around me. After all, those differences add new perspectives and they help me compensate for blind spots. Though I appreciate the differences, I am especially interested in finding areas of commonality so we can build on those. Blending how we’re difference with what we share in common makes for a strong alliance.
- Do unto others… The Golden Rule is always a good litmus test to determine if my political tactics are ethical and motivated by a desire to build and strengthen. I hope I treat others as I would like them to treat me. That excludes the dirty political tactics of gossip, deception and backstabbing.
Are you an effective politician? You are well on your way to success when you know the difference between competition and cooperation. No one said it better than President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
* Photo from California State University, Northridge