I often hear some of my fellow educators talk about their lack of interest in politics. More specifically, politics includes your run-of-the-mill office politics, local government politics and national government politics. What is most surprising to me is that with each of these levels of politics, I get the keen sense that most people have no understanding of how they are impacted and the implications politics has on their jobs and the ability of students to be successful at institutions of higher learning, especially during such hard times where educational budgets are heavily targeted to be slashed, in the name of cutting costs.
When asked how I view politics, I often reply that “politics are like building relationships; you figure out the kinds of relationships that you need to foster and how those relationships impact you and what you do on a daily basis and the implications those relationships has on those around you.” Additionally, I believe that not all politics are bad and that many great things can happen when you are at your political best. With this being said, here are some thoughts to ponder:
• Take the time to observe the office culture. This allows you to see how to operate in that office culture. From observing, you’ll be able to see how people get things done by negotiating and working with others and navigating their way through the office politics.
• Build relationships. Once you learn the office culture, figure out how you fit into culture and how you can build the relationships with the people who impact you the most. This not only includes supervisors, but their support staff as well. Having a solid relationship with support staff is an excellent way to get a foot in the door and the inside scoop on important things that are happening. Don’t take anyone for granted, regardless of who they are and the position they are in!
• Stay away from drama! It’s not in your best interest to get involved in the problems that others may be having at work. Of course, as you build relationships, you may connect with some people more so than others. This leads to people sharing their woes or problems. You can listen, if you choose, but stay out of it! You do not want to be pulled in the middle of something that you probably have no idea about and it certainly raises eyebrows from supervisors. If there are unpopular decisions that are made, it may not be in your best interest to join the local band wagon and protest. I suggest that you take the time to look at the big picture and evaluate if that issue is something that is worth the time and effort to devote your frustrations. This can certainly save you lots of heartache and pain in the short term and future if it’s not in your best interest.
• Praise in public, address concerns in private. Yes, you’ve heard this before. The truth of the matter is that this really makes a huge difference. If people see you as someone who is always criticizing others, they are least likely to want to work with you, out of hesitation that you may do the same to them. Hence, if you do have feedback to give to others, kindly and respectfully pull them aside and share that feedback in private. This allows for any misunderstandings or miscommunications to be easily resolved without the rat race of gossip that can spread so quickly.
Navigating your way through the wavy waters of office politics can be tricky, but following these general guidelines may be a good way for you to coast on the sailboat vs. rowing in the canoe. Stay focused, build those relationships and be mindful of the culture and how you fit into that culture. Politic away!
Rinardo Reddick is a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University and coordinator for America Reads/America Counts.