Office politics are a reality in every work environment, no matter how “laid back” the members of an office team may seem. As new professionals, it can feel overwhelming to work in a new office where you’re unsure of the team dynamics and to have your assumptions and perceptions challenged. Without understanding institutional history and the backstory of the team, you may be missing crucial pieces of information that play into the political climate of an office.
Mindtools.com describes office politics as “the strategies that people play to gain advantage, personally or for a cause they support.” Further, the phrase usually carries a negative connotation and employees must be careful to navigate these politics (and people) carefully. So what exactly does that look like, especially as new professionals?
Be a good observer.
Generally, it’s good to do more observing than acting when you start in any new role. Observation allows you to learn more about the culture of an organization, the expectations of your supervisor and team, and about your coworkers. This can be especially important when trying to determine what the political climate of an office. Pay attention to those who seem to dominate conversations, those who don’t say much, and how team members respond to one another.
Understand the power players.
It’s one thing to memorize your team’s stated organizational chart. It’s another thing completely to understand the unspoken organizational chart. We can all probably think of an example when the chain of command seemed to be…out of order. Unspoken power dynamics contribute to office politics because the longer you’ve been in an organization, the more adept you are at seeking the approval or affirmation of those whose “yes” matters more than others. We all want the “yes”!
As new professionals, we often aren’t clued into these nuances and we certainly aren’t being trained on them. However, it’s a good idea to ask a trusted supervisor, mentor, or confidant in the office to help you understand what the unspoken organizational chart looks like. This person can likely also give some background information on why this came to be the case in the first place.
Be a part of the solution(s).
It can be tempting to make new friends in the office by joining in on team gossip. But, it’s a very slippery slope if you want to minimize your role in the office political scene. You’ve been hired to do a job well – so make sure that you’re seeking solutions and not contributing to feelings of distrust, uncertainty, and miscommunication. You may never be able to avoid all office politics but, you can make an effort to respect and get to know each coworker individually from the start.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Terri Carr at firstname.lastname@example.org.