Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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FountainBlue’s August 10 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a range of perspectives on the panel, representing women who have moved from small companies to large, those who have remained at the same company, those who have stayed in one area, and those who have shifted from one to another. The panelists agreed that politics was everywhere, a fact of life. It’s about relationships, about communicating and working with people, about power and influence, and getting access to the people who wield it. It’s about getting alignment between people to make things happen for a shared cause, and also getting that it can’t always be done in the current company, with the current people. It’s about always knowing your values, your skills and your passions, and always delivering your best to yourself, your team, your company, and engaging with others to move things forward.

One of the core messages from these accomplished women is that in a corporate setting, when politics goes on, you must be clear about the motivations of others, and work to align stakeholders on objectives to move things forward. This in general involves managing your moods and emotions, and facilitating fact-based conversations, and bringing in an impartial party if necessary to settle issues. The panelists were clear that you don’t always have to like those that you’re working with, but taking the high road and acting professionally and focusing on delivering results will help you navigate most political waters.

And at times when it doesn’t seem worthwhile to work within a team or company, our panelists concurred that you should seek other opportunities within and outside the company. For you can’t change what others think and do, but you have full responsibility and obligation to yourself to put yourself in a position where you can thrive. Having thick skin and emotional intelligence as well as experience and saviness will help you see the motivations for what people say and do, and how they do it. And connecting candidly with others inside and outside the workplace to discuss challenges may help you see things from a different point of view.

Below is advice for navigating these waters:

  • Always focus on being productive and communicating strategically about your results, working with key stakeholders.
  • In a world that’s moving and changing so fast, navigating politics is about understanding what’s going to happen and why, being open-minded, embracing diversity, being flexible about how things should now be done and why, and aligning your team to the new direction.
  • It’s important to be passionate and engaged at work, but you should not always bring your whole self to work, and review your vulnerabilities to everyone in the workplace. Use your judgment about whom you can trust to cross over between professional and business relationships, and treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself.
  • In environments of scarcity and stress, people don’t behave in the way they normally do. Be forgiving and accepting of others who made bad choices under difficult circumstances, but also be savvy enough to make sure that you’re not bitten twice by someone, or know when someone is going to be untrustworthy under any circumstances.
  • Be a leader and provide an alternative option when emotions are running high
  • It’s always about relationships. Make deep friendships and relationships, so that you know what’s going on.
  • Don’t necessarily be someone’s yes man, you want individual value and brand to stand out. Be direct, transparent, open and communicative.
  • Don’t play the blame game; try to figure out what went wrong and fix processes and systems rather than chewing out someone within the system.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff, but focus on the larger, more strategic outside-in-view in any politically-laden, emotionally-charged situation at work.
  • If you have been stabbed in the back by someone who now offers you an olive branch, see the intent of the offer (is it to apologize and help you both learn or to set up another bad situation for you), mend fences when possible (it’s a small world/industry/company/team, who knows what he/she will be to you next), forgive, but don’t forget.
  • Communication is key. You are never off stage, so be careful about what you say, what you do, how you do it, why you do it, and how communicate it, via actions, voice, e-mail, social media, etc. It will have implications for your political landscape.
  • To get into the ‘inner circle’, know who is making the decisions, who is in the know, how things get done and develop a strategy for how to connect deeply with these influential others.
  • Your team and company need to have a common vision and work toward a common purpose. If it’s not, then help them envision a common future and make changes so that you can get there together, being clear that those who can’t get from here to there will not be part of the team.
  • If the political situation compromises your values or better judgment, disengage and seek other options. But never make a career decision based on an individual as things can change and quickly!

In summary, politics as a reality, and some waters are bloodier than others. We hope that the conversation and learnings helps you on your course, and that you connect with others along the way.

Resources:

  • Career Warfare: 10 Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It by David F. D’Alessandro (Nov 24, 2003)
  • Executive Warfare: 10 Rules of Engagement for Winning Your War for Success by David F. D’Alessandro (Jul 7, 2008)
  • Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why: 10 Things You’d Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead by Donald Asher (May 1, 2007)
  • Cubicle Warfare: Self-Defense Tactics for Today’s Hypercompetitive Workplace by Blaine Pardoe (Aug 20, 1997)
  • Brand Warfare: 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand by David D’Alessandro (August 23, 2002)

FountainBlue’s August 10 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Politics in the Workplace: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Please join us in thanking our speakers for taking the time to share their advice and thoughts and to our gracious hosts at eBay.

Facilitator Jerri Barrett, Vice President of Marketing, Anita Borg Institute

Panelist Peggy Abkemeier Alford, VP, CFO, PayPal North America

Panelist Sridevi Koneru, Director of Business Development, Cisco Services

Panelist Sandy Orlando, Vice President Marketing, IP Infusion

Panelist Amy Rubin, VP Marketing and PR, ArcSoft

 

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