Five Tips to Help Understand and Navigate Corporate Politics

Have you ever wondered why nobody likes politics, or sees themselves as political; yet politics are prevalent everywhere? Here are some tips to navigate some of the more common, subtle, and often unintentional occurrences of corporate politics:

1. Realize that people use the word “politics” to describe behavior they don’t trust.  Often what we mean when we feel that others are being political is that the real motivation behind their behavior is unclear, and we don’t trust that they are being completely up front about their agenda. This means that when you aren’t completely transparent about your agenda, you are also seen as “being political”.

One way to navigate politics is to talk openly about what you want, which you can model by framing most of your interactions with your agenda. For example, instead of saying, “Hey, can you get me this by tomorrow?”, you could say, “I’m hoping to give myself enough time to review and make last minute changes on Friday. Do you think you can get me this by tomorrow?”

On the receiving end, when someone asks you for something, you can include agenda clarifying as part of your response by simply asking genuine questions about what might matter to them. For example: “what are you most worried about?” or “what matters most to you in this situation?”

2. Understand that all of us are somewhat self-protective in a work environment. This means that we don’t share our insecurities openly, instead we try to show up as confident and professional. Yet, we all need to feel valued and appreciated at work, no matter how confident we are. So to some degree, you’ll see everyone around you using their own way of checking to see that others approve of, value, or appreciate them. It’s important and smart to seek feedback and understand how others experience you. And seeking feedback from a place of genuine curiosity and confidence usually lands well. But when we are feeling vulnerable and needy for validation, it comes across as manipulative.

Often what seems like “politics” is people wanting to be validated but not wanting to seem like they need validation. It’s obvious that they are hiding something but what they are really hiding is their insecurity and neediness. Awareness of this phenomenon can give you a lot of power when you work with people who show up as political. If you can reframe their behavior as coming from insecurity and a need for validation, they don’t seem quite as villainous, and you can handle their antics without reacting with fear.

3. Trust is the antidote to politics.  You can work on building trust in your work environment simply by getting to know people on a deeper level. Share personal stories that reflect your values and get to know what is important to your coworkers. We all have insecurities and weak spots – developing deeper work relationships makes it safe to know this about each other. Practice supporting each other through stressful times when one or more of you are not at your best. Work extra hard at building better relationships with people who get under your skin – it’s much more challenging but well worth the effort. It not only strengthens your relationships and your team, it also builds a foundation for a more trusting culture across the board.

4. Even in high trust work environments, nobody feels completely safe. This is because we still have to perform and help our company thrive in order to keep our jobs. We depend on our jobs for income, and while some of us are very confident in our ability to earn money and get work anywhere, most people are not. Add that to the many minor misunderstandings that happen daily just because we are all human and we all make mistakes, and trust will naturally erode unless each of us puts effort into continuously building it. The true masters at corporate politics are those who know this, and work hard every day to build trust in their relationships, even with those they feel at odds with.

5. There are two keys to successfully becoming politically savvy. One is to constantly work on building good relationships with everyone in your organization – this means going beyond superficial if you can. The second, and probably even more important, is to work on your own growth so that you get your needs met outside of work and feel genuinely confident in your work environment. If you need others at work, even your manager, to approve of you, appreciate you, or show you how much they value you, your behavior will be seen as political and will likely backfire.

The most important personal growth initiative when it comes to showing up as “beyond politics” at work, is to build your self-awareness so you can recognize when you are most insecure and needy, and get those needs met on your own outside of work, which ultimately helps you build confidence. Getting our needs met is important, even though sometimes it feels hard because we think we must depend on others to meet those needs. We have a process to help you do this, step by step, and the result is growing confidence and a sense of wellbeing, even when those around you continue to be difficult.

When we expect to get our needs met at work, we constantly look for signs that others might not respect or value us enough, and not surprisingly we find evidence for this everywhere. For example, we might misinterpret the behavior of a peer as trying to do something to undermine us and react accordingly. Our “reaction” shows up as politics even though we feel justified. At our most confident, we can see the same behavior in a peer from their perspective. Usually they are absorbed in trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal of their own, not considering the negative impact on us. If you are feeling confident, then you can approach that peer with genuine curiosity to understand what they are trying to accomplish and work through it.

One way to start building your self-awareness is to keep a trigger log and notice the stories you tell yourself when you feel annoyed, irritated, or upset by the behaviors of others. Then do a reality check and try to discover the real reason behind the behavior. Especially when the behaviors are ineffective, irritating, or infuriating, they are usually resulting from someone else’s insecurities. This self-awareness can help you break the reaction cycle and move to a more confident and effective place. And it can also take a huge weight off your shoulders.

If you’d like to explore this kind of growth further, or discuss a political situation you are facing, don’t hesitate to reach out – we’d love to talk it through with you!


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