National politics have a way of interjecting themselves into the workplace as an election year gathers steam. In contrast, office politics, as played out among coworkers, know no season. And a recent survey suggests they may be necessary for career advancement. More than half (56 percent) of workers interviewed for a Robert Half survey (http://legal.rhi.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=421&item=1368) said involvement in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to get ahead. With this in mind, here are some suggestions for being a skilled politician at work:
Build a broad coalition. Ambitious professionals are often focused on earning the goodwill of the presumed power brokers in their firm. While that can be an important advancement strategy, you shouldn’t overlook those at the grassroots level. You never know who could cast a deciding vote for or against you. Focus on earning the respect and trust of all your colleagues by being cordial to everyone, sharing credit for successes and delivering on your promises.
Avoid “mudslinging.” Don’t damage your credibility by taking the low road. When you’re upset or frustrated, wait until you’ve cooled off to air your thoughts. Be direct but tactful, and focus on facts not feelings.
Don’t be a “flip-flopper.” While some politicians seem willing to say anything they think voters want to hear, in the workplace, inconsistencies don’t go unnoticed. Character, credibility and steadiness still matter, especially when firms are considering who should represent them in high-profile positions.
Play by the rules. Seemingly minor slipups, such as choosing to ignore office protocol or working behind a colleague’s back, can have major implications. If you make a misstep, make amends quickly. Playing by the rules still counts for something in any political arena.
Connect with constituencies. While you don’t want to blurt out whatever it takes to appeal to a specific group, savvy candidates do tailor their message to their audience. Apply the same tactic to your colleagues; observe their unique work styles, priorities and communication preferences, and be willing to adapt your approach.
Dodge controversy. Whether someone tries to elicit your opinion on a new leader within your organization, proceed with caution. Better yet, bow out completely or say something that signals you’re remaining neutral. Getting into heated debates at work — about internal or external or politics — can leave lingering ill will and could permanently damage your reputation for diplomacy.
Despite your best efforts to navigate office politics, missteps are likely to occur. Even the most polished politicians make the occasional gaffe. To remain above the fray and keep your career moving forward, be attuned to political undercurrents in your organization, but don’t allow yourself to get pulled into situations that could compromise your working relationships or reputation.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.