1. Be aware that you have a choice. The most common reactions to politics at work are either fight or flight, but it takes more than just instinctive reactions to win in office politics. Instinctive fight reactions will only cause more resistance to whatever you are trying to achieve; instinctive flight reactions only label you as a pushover that people can easily take for granted. Neither option is appealing for career growth. Recognize that no matter how bad the circumstances, you have a choice in choosing how you feel and react.
2. Know what you are trying to achieve. When conflicts happen, it’s easy to be sucked into tunnel-vision and focus on immediate differences. That’s a self-defeating approach. Chances are you’ll only invite more resistance by focusing on differences in people’s positions or opinions. The way to mitigate this is to focus on the business objectives. In light of what’s best for the business, discuss the pros and cons of each option. It’s much easier to eat the humble pie and back off when the chosen approach is best for the business. By learning to steer the discussion in this direction, you will learn to disengage from petty differences and position yourself as someone who gets things done. Your boss will appreciate you as someone who is mature, strategic and trustworthy.
3. Focus on your circle of influence. At work, there are often issues over which we have very little control. It’s not uncommon to find corporate policies, client demands or boss mandates that conflict your personal interests. Instead of feeling victimized and complaining about the situation, focus on the things that you can do to change it -- within your circle of influence. This is a very empowering technique to overcome feelings of helplessness. It allows others to see you as someone who knows how to operate within given constraints. You may not be able to change the eventual outcome, but you can walk away knowing that you have done your best within the given circumstances. Constraints are all around in the workplace; with this approach, your boss will see you as someone who is positive and motivated.
4. Don’t take sides. In office politics, it is possible to find yourself stuck between two power figures who are at odds with each other. You find yourself being thrown around while they try to outwit each other and defend their own position. You can’t get them to agree on a common decision for a project, and neither of them wants to take ownership of issues. In cases like this, focus on the business objectives and don’t take sides -- even if you like one better than the other. Place them on a common communication platform and ensure open communications among all parties. By not taking sides, you’ll help to direct conflict resolution objectively. You’ll also build trust with both parties and keep engagements constructive.
5. Don’t get personal. In office politics, you’ll get angry with people. It happens. There will be times when you feel the urge to give that person a piece of your mind. Don’t. People tend to remember moments when they were humiliated or insulted. Even if you win this argument and get to feel really good about it for now, you’ll pay the price later when you need help from this person. What goes around comes around, especially at the workplace. To win in the office, you’ll want to build a network of allies. The last thing you want during a crisis is to have someone screw you up because they harbor ill intentions towards you -- all because you’d enjoyed a brief moment of emotional outburst at their expense.
6. Seek to understand, not to be understood. At the office and in life, we are more interested in getting others to understand us than to understand them first. Good business leaders have learned to suppress this urge. Surprisingly, seeking to understand is a very disarming technique. Once the other party feels that you understand where he/she is coming from, they will feel less defensive and be open to understand you in return. This sets the stage for open communications. Trying to arrive at a solution without first having this understanding is very difficult -- there’s too little trust and too much second-guessing.
7. Think win-win. Instinctively, we are often afraid to let someone else win because it implies losing for us. In business, that doesn’t have to be the case. Learn to think in terms of “How can we both win out of this situation?” Strive to seek out a resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties. Thinking win-win is an enduring strategy that builds allies and helps you win in the long term.