Tips for Dealing with Workplace Politics

Oh, the joys of office skullduggery. Who said what, to whom. Who’s getting that special project and who’s getting shut out – and why. Who’s maneuvering for that potential promotion and who’s going to get their fingers burned if they don’t watch out.

istock_000005885734xsmall.jpgIt can be tempting and easy to get caught up in the trench warfare of workplace politics. And it’s not a difficult activity to justify – after all, you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on, right? But swimming with the corporate barracudas has some serious downsides to consider, as well.

For starters, much of what passes for information is simply one-sided gossip and uninformed rumormongering. Plus, like any other game or soap opera, it takes a large investment of time to keep up with it – so much so that you could even find yourself neglecting the very work you’re paid to do. And with that investment of time comes equally large emotional and personal investments, and the accompanying stress they create.

Finally, while being part of the cubical confab may make you feel connected and important, what it’s actually likely to be doing is making you an inefficient and distracted worker who’s more concerned with winning the local game, regardless of the greater cost, than taking the broader view and doing what’s best for your career and for the company. And if you don’t think the higher ups will notice this or that it will affect your career, you’re dangerously mistaken.

Yes, you do need to remain both informed and connected. But you need to be smart and professional about it, as well. So how can you effectively deal with office politics and use the grapevine for your own benefit, without getting caught in the web of deceit, petty feuds and professional distractions? Here are three things you should consider when dealing with these issues:

1. Is this information professional or personal?

What’s the nature of what you’re being told? Is it purely personal information, or does it actually relate to work? There’s no real need for you to know about a co-worker’s social life, especially if getting involved in that drama will distract you from your work. But if the information concerns the potential retirement of your manager or a new project opening up, that’s different.

Learn to differentiate between personal and professional information, and focus your attention accordingly. Getting caught up in someone else’s “baby momma drama” will do nothing for you except take your mind off of what you should be doing instead.

2. Will getting involved make my professional life better, or will it just be another source of energy drain and stress?

If the answer is that you actually can benefit in a real way from getting involved, by all means step in. This would include discussions about potential changes in the corporate structure, interesting or valuable projects that are opening up, training and networking opportunities, etc.

On the other hand, personal drama, professional feuds, betting pools, water-cooler gossip and so on are nothing but distractions at best and wrenching sources of continuing stress at worst. Skip them. (Although in the case of professional feuds, you may want to keep half an ear out in case the shrapnel starts flying in your direction).

3. Where is this information coming from?

Is this person a reliable source? Do they really have the connections to know what they’re talking about, or are they simply stringing half-heard rumors, best guesses and prurient imaginings together into a juicy story that makes a loud noise but signifies nothing? Is this person usually right, or not? Could acting on this information blow up in your face if it’s wrong? Consider the source and check any information against a rock-solid reliable insider before taking any action that could have serious repercussions on your career.

Remember, just because someone’s talking about it doesn’t mean you need to listen. And just because your colleagues care about it doesn’t mean it has to be important to you, or that you have to let it take up your time and attention.

Think about it from your boss’s point of view. Who would you be more likely to put in charge of something important – someone who allows themselves to get distracted by pointless, but titillating, intrigues at the expense of their work, or someone who’s capable of sifting the wheat from the chaff and staying plugged into the local environment while still maintaining a professional distance from the lure of breakroom gossip?

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