In all work environments, there exists an appetite for frivolous discussions, rumors, malicious intentions and unnecessary speculation. Whilst working from home would have reduced those discussions at the pantry, human nature does not change drastically. As the initial discomfort of working from home and settling into the new normal passes, politics at the workplace resurfaces to remind us of its presence. Whilst some would advise you simply not to get involved, and practical experience would suggest otherwise.
What then, is the solution and where is the balance?
Focus on the Essentials
At all times maintain focus on the absolute essentials – your work and managing your career. At all times there remains an obligation on the individual to not only do a stellar job but also to highlight their achievements at the right time to the right people. This is all you need to do and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Any piece of information passed on by someone about someone else, your department, your organization etc should be treated as a rumor and unless it has a drastic impact on your job you needn’t give it a second thought. The first and possibly only thing you need to do is to never repeat it. If you find it becoming a nagging concern, carefully structure your point and bring it up in the next catch-up with your manager. Stick to the facts and structure your question in a way that clearly expresses your concern whilst not presenting you as a propagator of misinformation or an alarmist.
The Power Matrix
Anyone who has ever led a project or program of any significance knows there is no escaping from the vertical and horizontal management one needs to engage in to earn the credit your work deserves. This is the only kind of politics one needs to be involved in.
To do this effectively, create a Power Matrix of everyone of influence above your level and amongst your peers. Your peers will constitute what is called your horizontal and will be the ones you see performing excellently at what they do or lead the kind of projects you aspire to. The colleagues in your vertical will be those in levels above you that you have a direct impact on the progress of your career or are those who you would like to model your career after. Identify these individuals, establish a relationship with them and work this network with laser-sharp focus. There is no one else you need to concern yourself with unless you identify them for inclusion to this network.
Mum’s the word
In a world where we are encouraged to bring our whole selves to work, I am here to tell you to be selective about what you say. Own every part of yourself, express yourself in how you dress, wear or avoid make-up, causes you to support, all of that but be very selective about what you say to whom at work.
Never speak about anyone else in your team or project unless it is as a one-word compliment. Even if you utter a couple of complimentary sentences about someone, it can be twisted by the other person and passed along to cause trouble you don’t need. When conversing with anyone, keep it about yourself or the person you’re speaking with. If you make friends with someone at work and end up discussing personal details with them, be careful not to discuss your colleagues with them at all. Keep it about yourself and keep it selective.
In conclusion, there is no hiding from work politics. Handle it like an adult by embracing the possibility and engaging in it wisely.