Office politics come into play in virtually every workplace. No matter how efficiently you perform your job, your place in the pecking order is going to be influenced by your ability (or inability) to read people and conduct yourself in ways that present you in the very best light. While it can be easy to say that career advancement should be based solely on job performance, the fact remains that whether you like it or not, if you are employed, you must know how to play the game. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to leave your ethics at the door – you can work to advance your career while staying true to your values if you keep a few things in mind:
- Never abuse your position of power. Managers and others who have authority over other workers must exercise caution to avoid playing favorites at work. Even when both a professional and a personal relationship exists, managers should strive to keep the friendship from influencing their workplace decisions.
- Maintain your professionalism. Gossip, off-color jokes, and boisterous behavior have no place at work. By conducting yourself with dignity, you will gain the respect of supervisors, peers, and subordinates.
- Be friendly and available. Although you should always behave professionally, there is no need to be stuffy or standoffish at work. Everyone prefers to work with people who are friendly and upbeat, so strive to keep a positive attitude and express a genuine interest in the lives of the people that you work with.
- Be a team player. We’ve all heard the phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” and while it may be corny and overused, it is nonetheless true. Giving credit to others for their great ideas and hard work will gain you the respect and admiration of coworkers. Great managers know that in order to survive and thrive in the workplace, each employee should be encouraged to utilize his individual strengths and talents.
- Treat confidences with care. No matter your position, there will likely come a time when you are privy to information that is not meant to be public. While spilling the beans may give you a quick gain, violating the trust of others is sure to backfire eventually. Learn when to speak up and when to remain quiet.
- Tread carefully when forming workplace friendships. In today’s busy world, many of us spend more time with our coworkers than we do with family members, so it is natural to form emotional attachments to fellow employees. While there is nothing wrong with befriending people at work, you should remember that it is unethical to expect your friendship to garner raises or promotions, so be sure to keep your expectations reasonable. If you have a falling out with a work friend, you may create an awkward situation for everyone involved.
- Love and work don’t usually mix well. Dating a coworker can be complicated, and many companies even have policies in place to discourage romantic relationships between employees. There are a number of reasons that getting romantically involved with a coworker is risky, so if you chose to date someone at work, be prepared to raise a few eyebrows. If things are going well, avoid lovey-dovey behavior at work and if you are having difficulties in the relationship, keep that to yourself as well. Of course, if you are interested in someone who is either above or below you on the corporate ladder, you may want to discuss the possibility that one of you may need to find employment elsewhere.
- Protect your reputation. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being the subject of hurtful gossip, by all means, defend yourself. If you are aware of the source, take the time to calmly address the person without making accusations. Sending an inner-office memo or email may be the best way since you will not only be able to choose your words carefully, but will have a written record of the communication. If you are unable to resolve the situation yourself, you may have to request assistance from your supervisor, but you should try to handle things without involving management, if possible.
- Finally, be sure that you can look at yourself in the mirror. Ultimately, your behavior at work will help to determine your character, so take care to keep your desire for career advancement from coloring your judgment at work. We all want to do well, but at the end of the day, we have to live with the choices that we make. Conduct yourself in a manner that would make you proud – even if your mother were watching!
Workplace politics are a fact of life, but just because you have to play the game doesn’t mean that you have to play dirty. Promote your talents and abilities, of course, but never do so at the expense of others.