In a career duel. Stuck with an office secret. Asking for a raise or promotion from a boss you can’t quite read.
Office politics are a fact of life.
And they look a lot like regular politics. The best politicians stand for something. They combine their desire to be of service and to affect positive change with executing on the nuts and bolts: building a platform, negotiating conflicts and leading an agenda to transform their community for the better.
The same is true for office politics. The best leaders stand up for what they believe, and they work to build strong, healthy organizations that drive positive change in a larger arena.
The key to navigating office politics on your own terms is to know your own personal bottom line. At the center of your being, you are already committed to something or to several somethings, and you know when those commitments have been compromised or you’ve sold out because you feel sick or unhappy or irritable.
The good news is that once you’ve named what you stand for, you can build what you’ll stand on: your platform. And you can find the best place to work — an environment that endorses your platform.
Want to travel and enjoy working in a variety of spaces? Or is time at home with family and friends more important? A job or career out of sync with your desire will breed resentment, so be clear about what you want.
And understand that this may change over time. A workplace that encourages a specific lifestyle may be perfect for now, but it’s unlikely to be your forever home. Tweak your expectations about your time there accordingly.
Are you comfortable keeping secrets? Sensitive to unspoken conflicts? You need to be clear on the type of communication culture that will help you thrive. I was once offered a position where the person in the role didn’t know she was being replaced. Others might have thrived in that organization, but I knew I wouldn’t.
I’ll do almost anything that the team needs. My benchmark, though, is how my performance is measured. That checklist doesn’t always match the job description, especially in smaller organizations.
I once accepted a job described primarily as something I loved with a little bit of something I hated. It turned out that the work I hated was going to be more than 80 percent of my performance evaluation. I now ask about performance evaluations as part of the interview process — that’s a better indicator than job description.
Are you comfortable commanding — or demanding — attention? Do you prefer to toil quietly behind the scenes? Or are you somewhere in the middle? Ask plenty of questions of (or about) the person you’ll report to and describe the kind and frequency of feedback that helps you do your best work.
Are you in it for the money? That doesn’t make you a bad person. Personally, I’m a big fan of fair compensation. I do my homework, and I’ve learned how to negotiate for it. It’s not my favorite thing, but it helps head off future resentment.
Money doesn’t need to be your number one concern, of course — everyone is motivated differently. But do be sure you aren’t accidentally sabotaging yourself. Once, I was so excited to be offered a particular position that I took the first amount the headhunter named. I found out later that the company would have paid up to $10,000 more if I had negotiated for it. D’oh.
Do you need a view? A cube with high walls? A space as close to your boss as possible, or as far away?
I once happily shared an office with a wonderful colleague, two mismatched desks (including one with three legs), a pair of appalling vinyl armchairs and a tiny, creaky, hand-crank window that opened directly onto a lawn that, every Friday at noon, was home to the weekly practice for the very large MARCHING BAND. This taught me the valuable lesson that a quiet workspace was really important to my productivity.
I don’t need monastic silence and a Herman Miller setup, mind you. But I did once pass on a director position because I’d be based at a beat-up desk in an open bullpen. In a basement. With cockroaches. I’m just not that noble.
Once you’ve built your platform, the areas of alignment — and lack of alignment — with your current environment will be easy to spot. If you discover you aren’t in sync, there are different ways to take action.
A good match between your platform and your organization’s style won’t eliminate career duels, office secrets or the inevitable and exhausting drama surrounding the Birthday Cake Policy, but you’ll enter those encounters from a position of clarity and strength that will guide you to more satisfying outcomes.
Jennifer Houlihan is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.