How to Win Playing the Office Politics Game
I’m a Technology Sales Executive working for a conservative, “IBM-type” company that has 1,500 people within our division and only 19 female managers. My appraisals are stellar and I’ve worked hard to earn a great promotion and reputation within the organization.
After an incident, where I passionately disagreed with a senior level executive about a process that would save the organization millions of dollars in research and development, I realized that I might now be perceived as defensive and unfortunately emotional.
How do I maintain my middle ground when I believe something is right, without taking the easy way out? I want to play the game at work, but not without sacrificing my dignity and reputation.
When I read your email, I immediately thought of my favorite Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler.”
The chorus says, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away and know when to run…” This advice, as corny as it may seem, works well when you want to successfully play and win the office political game.
As an executive in a male-dominated organization, any woman can be wrongly perceived as emotional or zealous when passionately disagreeing with another executive.
It’s important that you pick and choose your battles, to maintain your ability to be promoted and respected. The next time you want to fight for and enforce a rule or procedure that will best serve the company and keep your boss equally happy, ask yourself 4 simple questions.
1) How will this challenge best serve my reputation now and in the future?
What is your current reputation at work? Ask yourself will this battle or suggestion, help my reputation or destroy it? The pressing situation that you are fighting for today might be a moot point later.
Is the issue worth your energy and the potential damaging hit to your reputation?
2) Who is the best person in the organization to fight for this idea and enforce this policy? Can I win the battle, but ultimately lose the war?
My mother always says, “You can’t go to war without a gun.” I also think that you can’t argue with a higher-up, or push through a new idea without some support.
Take into consideration the reputation of the person you are battling with as well. Do they have many allies? Is your boss a member of this boys or girls club, as well?
Right as you maybe to enforce the rules or recommend ideas that best serve the interests of the company, if you don’t have a key influencer on your team to rally behind your idea, think twice. (Why take the hit to your reputation, if you boss is better suited to go to war on the issue?)
3) Who are your office allies? And will they support your fight for this idea?
If the situation gets heated, you’ll need an ally to soothe hurt feelings or explain your side, in those infamous, private-closed-door meetings thatusually happen behind your back.
Unless you are the CEO, I advise any executive to not fight for any issue head- on without support or major influence. Don’t back down or become a wimp. Tackle this issue from a position of strength, but think of a clever way to implement the idea, without major confrontation.
4) Am I unknowingly portraying a classic female stereotype?
Can I remain calm, cool and collected during my meetings with other male executives when presenting an issue that might receive some resistance?
As a woman you’ve got to think about how some men and women, who play the game well, perceive women who are new players at the office playground. It’s hard to shake these old feminine stereotypes, but here we go…
- If you are a crier, you’re weak and can’t control your emotions.
- If you raise your voice, are aggressive or passionate, you might be the temperamental b-word.
- If you pass out cupcakes, birthday cards and fetch any executive’s coffee with two creams and sugar, you might be the sweet underling that reminds people of their mother.
- If you dress too provocatively, well, you know…
Examine the women that are delicately balancing their feminine nature and their ability to stand strong and push through their ideas within your organization. No matter how upset or heated the argument may get, a woman raising her high pitched voice is never received well by men…or our modern game-playing women colleagues.
Never let them see you sweat. As a passionate and quick-tempered woman, I’ve had to learn how to talk in a calm manner, without revealing my true feelings. This one practice now puts me in a position of power, because it’s difficult for people to read my expressions, and determine what my next moves are.
We’d all like to think that hard work and results will help you safely rise up the corporate ladder, but it’s often how well you play the office political game that allows you to win at work.
If you have any doubts on whether you’re about to make a mistake that will damage your stellar reputation, remember my 4 questions. I also suggest you start humming the words of the Gambler and let Kenny Rogers’ famous chorus be your guide.