The people who have the most success at work aren’t necessarily the hardest workers. They are the people who pay the most attention to other people. If you put your head down and work really hard, you may end up missing what’s really going on in the workplace: office politics.
It’s easy to say you don’t want to be a part of office politics, but here’s another way to look at things: office politics are about being nice. People talk with each other to learn about each other, and then they can offer help in a way that’s really useful. Then, of course, people feel a natural affinity to the people they have helped or received help from.
Being nice is not a quid pro quo thing. It’s something you do without keeping score—you develop trust that nice people get treated nicely. So instead of obsessing over the list of tasks you have each day at work, ask yourself what you will do that day to be more kind and helpful to people you work with. Here are five ideas to get you started:
Eat lunch with someone
Hate networking? Even something as simple as regularly having lunch with a co-worker can be a powerful networking tool. Networking isn’t about spending time with 500 people you barely know—a network is made up of a few people who would do anything for you. These are the people you turn to when you have work problems. You can find a friend like this if you eat lunch with someone every day. It takes a lot of energy for many people, but it’s worth it. You get closer and closer to the people you eat with, and that will allow you to find out where the good jobs are, where the big projects are, and how to get the assignments that mean the most to you.
Prioritize your workday
Here’s a secret: all your work is not of equal importance—some tasks are more significant than others. So why should you put the same amount of time and energy into tasks that aren’t as crucial as others? Here’s an idea: You should do 20 percent of your work in a very focused, organized way. The rest of the time, it’s OK to work more quickly and economize your time in order to reserve energy for the things that matter most.
Focus on the tasks that matter most to your boss
You have a lot of work, but not all your work is important to your boss. Some of your work you are just doing because someone needs to get it done, and some of your work is essential to your boss being recognized as a good manager. Find the work you do that is most important to your boss. Put most of your energy toward that. You could spend day in and day out working on a project that the boss doesn’t care about, and that pattern will not help you. Successful people get recognized for the work they do by doing the work that matters.
Figure out your boss’s strengths and weaknesses
Your boss has strengths and he or she loves using them. We all do. I read productivity books all the time even though I’m already great at productivity. It’s nice to work on skills we are already doing well on. Our weaknesses are harder, and we mostly want them to just go away. The Gallup organization reports on strengths every year, and they emphatically do not encourage trying to train yourself to overcome weaknesses. Instead, we should all focus on our strengths. This means your boss will also focus on strengths, but you can fill in where your boss’s weaknesses interfere with getting the job done. And your boss will love you for doing that.
Managers have to manage
So many first-time managers spend all their time doing their own work. Of course they do, because that’s how they got their last promotion—by doing great work. But in management, the most important task is to encourage other people to do a great job on their work. New managers need to shift from doing to overseeing, and often this means allowing someone to do the job in a way that is not superior to the way you’d do it. The best thing you can do as a manager is to encourage people to be their best selves. This is more important than getting the job done.
There are many ways to tell if you’re doing the right things when it comes to office politics, but it all starts with simply looking up from your desk every now and then and interacting with those around you. The relationships you build in the office can make or break your career, so don’t make the mistake of underestimating them.
How do you navigate office politics without getting mired down in drama? Please share your ideas in the comments!