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5 sure-fire tips to make office politics work for you

Monday, November 9, 2015  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Most women deal with office politics by ignoring them – or reluctantly "playing the game" when necessary, Jo Miller, CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching, told NEW members during the NEW Leadership Academy webinar "Political Skill," on Nov. 6, 2015.

But people who are politically savvy have better career prospects, better career trajectories, are seen as more promotable and are less likely to derail, Miller said, citing a Center for Creative Leadership study. "You can't afford to ignore office politics," Miller emphasized.

Women leaders need to re-think office politics as "organizational awareness," what Miller defines as "being an astute observer of the communication and relationships that surround you in your organization."

Mapping success

Miller advises women to privately rework their team's org chart to a "shadow organization map" to recognize influencers, flow of influence, coalitions and "verticals," parties whose influence run upward through peers, management and senior leaders. "Make it your mission to map the organization," she said, noting it's important to recognize and build relationships with positive political influencers and to make note of negative influencers. 

Workplace coalitions, where three or more people represent a source of influence, are not impenetrable. "Networking with people who bring fresh, new information from outside the organization can make you valuable to an existing coalition," she said.

Here are five tips to navigate office politics:

  • Stay positive. Dwelling on an obstacle, such as a closed-off "boys' network," is counter-productive. "It puts you out of the running," Miller noted. "Think more about what brought it together."
  • Know that every group has unwritten "rules of the game." Whether your group knows to act first and ask forgiveness later, or knows not to contradict the norm, it's imperative to know the rules — ask questions to learn what they are.
  • Respect your personal boundaries. If you're uncomfortable with a political maneuver, "empower yourself to have a choice," Miller advises. "You can choose to do things differently."
  • Act fast when things go wrong. "You want to go out of your way to apologize, rebuild, then move on swiftly."
  • Fail forward. "Know that making a political mistake is not the end," Miller said. "It's possibly the beginning of a turning point in your career."

NEW members may register online for the next NEW Leadership Academy webinar "Take Your Seat at the Table," Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. ET, for free. Non-members may view webinars for $99 per session. Members may view previous NEW Leadership Academy webinars in the NEW Study Hall.

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