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I've had several jobs post-graduation already and whereas I always exceed expectations when it comes to my performance (i.e. shown expertise/ skills in the field I'm active in), I feel I could work on my office politics skills. Till now I just avoided all politics. I hate politics. But several times I even felt victim to the office politics: I was seen as threatening and humiliated/ treated aggressively/ forced to quit for someone to save their face, etc.

It can be that in certain industries (IT?) that's not so important, but in mine (let's say finance) it's everything.

What do I mean precisely?

  • Building coalitions, making people support me
  • Exerting influence, "making people do what I want them to" (logical arguments work at times... But frequently they don't)
  • Being considered knowledgeable and being liked, being the "go-to" person, being invited to participate in projects and initiatives

I'm an introvert. A sociable, outspoken but an analytical introvert. I like having time to think. I don't like being in a crowd and feel like an alien among loud people competing with not always not exactly fair means. I mention that since I believe it makes navigating human relationships slightly more difficult.

What are the ways to get better in the area of office politics? My goal is 1) to avoid problems I sometimes had in the past (being bullied, excluded, etc.) and 2) achieving a career progression.

I honestly even searched for courses but haven't found anything at my location.

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    "The only way to win the game is to not play it." If you are good, and you treat others with respect, and you're helpful when you can be helpful, you will achieve all those things you wish to achieve. Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 19:37
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    @JulieinAustin, I really wish this was true. But unfortunately, it's not true in my field. Those who've achieved most are extremely good at playing the game... (But can pretend they are not playing it ;). And after losing several times because of not playing along, I really don't feel like losing again.
    – BigMadAndy
    Commented Sep 18, 2019 at 19:39
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    Personally, I solved this problem a few decades ago by going freelance. I know I won't be prompted, I don't have to care beyond the end of the current project, and if I am thrown out because of politics I can quickly pick up another gig. Many freelancers I talk to say that this is a big part of why they freelance
    – Mawg
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 6:34
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    And at the risk of answering in a comment, I wanted to point out something I feel is missing in the existing answers: much of "winning" politics is based on understanding what other people want. What they are trying to achieve, and what their motivating factors are. The deceptive side of politics is usually about manipulating people and/or hiding motivations. It can be much easier to disarm or avoid those hurtful behaviors if you take the time to reflect on how other people are motivated. And when you know what other people are truly motivated by, it can be easier to have a positive outcome
    – dwizum
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 14:54
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    @BigMadAndy - There is "politics" and there is being a good co-worker. If you want to know how to be a good co-worker, the answer is simple - be friendly and helpful. "Politics" is trying to "win" personally rather than trying to help the company, and your co-workers, "win". Focus on the business, and helping your co-workers do what is best for the business. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 6:24

4 Answers 4

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Politics isn't just about dirty, Machiavellian tricks. In fact that's a minority of it. It's about making friends and talking about your ideas, finding out what people want (and don't want) and looking for solutions where everyone wins.

If you trick or pressure someone into doing something they don't like once, they'll never help you again, and everyone else will be wary of dealing with you.

There are a couple of examples in Nikolas Means' excellent lecture about the building of the Eiffel tower where the designer found ways to solve objections to his plan that also made him significantly richer. If you're not interested in the story, there are a couple of book recommendations at the end. (I should add that the video is really about why engineers should care about politics, and the story of the tower is only illustrating his point)

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  • I don't think what you described in the first paragraph has anything to do with "politics". "Politics" is about exercising control and influence over groups of people -- formally, governments and the people governed. The means may or may not be Machiavellian, but the formal definition is about exercising control and influence, not just being a nice person and a helpful co-worker. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 6:30
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In order to answer this - I'm going to address firstly your 3 points and then some broader advise. For the record, I work in IT.

"Making people support me" - This is probably the biggest one - the question that is being asked here is one of leadership. I don't mean the barking orders at people and bossing them around, I mean personal leadership. If you set standards for yourself and adhere to them, if you demonstrate to others that you are dependable and will follow through - then people will naturally gravitate towards you. And don't think that this means you have to be perfect all the time - One time, I was working on a project and I had a junior do some analysis work, I looked through it - it looked good and I signed it off. We went to do the change and we had missed something big, which caused a bit of noise. I sent an email around the office personally apologizing for the issue and I bought a cake. The ownership I took and not throwing the junior under the bus was very well received - because people saw that if they worked with me, I would treat them fairly. Depending on your outlook on life - I can highly recommend the Extreme Ownership series by Jocko Willink (ex Navy Seal and ultimate badass) for more on this subject.

In short - lead yourself and then others will want to be lead by you.

"Exerting influence" - A big part of this is what I've addressed above - however in addition, you need to think of selfish altruism - "I want X from someone, therefore I need to figure out what they want from me" - For me (in IT) helping out the finance team on various tasks and doing some automation for them, meant that when it came time for them to sign off my on-call, I didn't get any questions asked (yes, it was all legit - but we had a project that caused some high hours that normally would be questioned). If you make others lives easier, they will be more inclined to help in return.

"Being knowledgeable" - The short answer here is that there is no shortcut. In order to be seen as knowledgeable, you gotta be knowledgeable. In addition though, this means (as you said you are introverted) you have to get more comfortable with speaking up in meetings and making suggestions. Don't worry about making a wrong suggestion either - an incorrect idea that has sound supporting evidence is still worthy of consideration. Saying something like "I see the solution that we are trying to provide, but this looks similar to this problem we solved this way previously - is there a way that we can use the same principle to resolve this issue?" - it may not be correct, but if it's got a good grounding, then it shows to others that you are thinking of alternatives and offering potential solutions. Furthermore, if you think that an idea has legs, you have got to be willing to fight for it. If you make a suggestion that gets rejected and you slink away into the corner, then no one is going to take you seriously - whereas if you back yourself and give your reasoning for this idea and why you believe it will work, people will take you more seriously. There is a balancing act here - fight too zealously and people will dismiss you, fight not enough and they will dismiss you - you need to remain calm and neutral and not invested in one way or another - but seeking the best option.

Finally - you talk about bullying and advancement - my 2 best bits of advice:

  1. Learn to say "No". No is the single most powerful word, it lets others know that there is a boundary that you are not willing to cross. Use it sparingly and with caution, but when the time is right - use it. You may face a little bit of short-term pushback - but in the long run, it will work out for you - and if not, that's when the organization is so toxic that it would be better to look for other opportunities.

  2. Email is your greatest friend, in the world, bar none. Seriously - get used to writing emails and following up informal chats with emails. Get used to searching your mailbox for key info. Say you talk with your boss to take time off at short-notice and they say "Yep yep, fine whatever" - and then deny the conversation ever took place - a follow-up email of simply "Hey, just confirming the chat we had earlier - as discussed I will be off work from the day after tomorrow because of a family emergency".

Hope that helps.

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My advice- do your job and document, documents, document. Save emails. Verify projects and expectations by email. Document successes. If your project fails, take your share of the responsibility.

I can’t help on networking and alliances. Make friends. Watch their back, do them favors be reliable and hope they reciprocate.

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If you want to get better the best thing you can do is get realistic practice.

One way I've done that is by getting involved in the board game Diplomacy (both online and in tournaments).

At first you're likely to wonder what a game could possibly have to do with office politics so I'll explain further:

You have seven players - each round secret negotiations take place where you have to build coalitions and influence others for you to reach your goals. Then at the end of negotiations, each players orders are read out simultaneously.

Since the game lasts a very long time (online games can go for days/weeks, tournament games easily take 6+ hours) people get emotionally invested and that effects their decisions and interactions with you.

While on the surface the game appears to be about dishonesty - it's really a game that teaches you about dealing with conflict in productive ways if you want to be successful.

I've found that in the couple years since I've started this hobby it has positively impacted my skills in influencing others and building coalitions in the workplace.

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