Survival Skills for Workplace Politics
Let’s be real for a moment. Many of our professional environments are charged with workplace politics. And here are 3 reasons why:
You may be thinking, this first one sounds a little too personal for a professional conversation, and you’re right—it is personal. I would normally save this for last because not everyone likes to go “there” right away. But, if you only read the top half of this article, I want you to hear this:
Personal insecurity can wreak professional havoc if left unchecked.
How do I know? Because I’ve been on both sides of insecurity as a working professional—my own insecurities and the insecurities of others. As a coach and consultant, I’ve witnessed the ripple effect of insecurity in an organization and in leadership. And if we’re all honest, our personal insecurities have affected our professional actions at some point in our lives.
Insecurity is subtle and it’s sneaky. It looks like cake but tastes like kale. It bubbles up when you secretly triumph over your ideas rising to the top instead of the ideas of others. It surfaces in subtle ways—like when you have great conversation over coffee with a coworker, but that same coworker can’t give you eye contact when you’re both invited into an important meeting. It’s the colleague who champions another colleague to their face, but tears them down behind their back. It’s the teammate who questions another’s motives, when they have no prior reason to doubt their intentions. This is insecurity.
Whatever it is for you in your workplace situation, know this: you can move beyond insecurity—yours and others.
SURVIVAL SKILLS FOR INSECURITY:
Your Insecurity: Do your best to be Self-Aware of your own insecurities. If you’re feeling insecure, stop and think about it: What’s making me feel so insecure? How is my insecurity spilling in my work or in my relationships? Who am I pushing away or competing with because of my insecurities? How can I begin to champion those friends and restore those relationships?
Their Insecurity: If you’re getting insecurity vibes from a coworker, pay attention to those vibes. If you care about the relationship and the individual is healthy enough to handle conflict (super important)—or you simply need to make the relationship work for professional collaboration—be willing to have the hard conversation. Say something like: It seems like you’re pushing me out of this project or competing with me for our boss’s attention. Is there something I’m missing? How can we work better together? How can I support you in this season?
2. LACK OF CLARITY
When expectations are unclear during a short season of change or transition, it creates an atmosphere of possibility and creativity. But when expectations are unclear over a long stretch of time, it creates an atmosphere of chaos. Imagine the Wild West. Survival of the fittest.
When leaders and teams are left to build without vision, create without guidelines, hold people accountable without guardrails, aim for an unknown target, steer towards an unclear destination, it creates workplace silos. We resort to protecting and defending instead of inviting and engaging. We react in fear instead of respond in confidence. We make strategic moves to gather more leadership ground or seize more organizational territory because we’re afraid of losing influence or resources.
A lack of clarity can bring out the worst in all of us. But we don’t have to operate this way. We still have a choice in the midst of a lack of clarity.
SURVIVAL SKILLS FOR LACK OF CLARITY:
Ask questions, and truly listen to the answers. Create as much clarity as you can in your position. Have face to face conversations. Pull people together for group conversations. If necessary, write a group email, but keep it short, simple, to the point, and all about the process (more to come on writing emails like this).
If a lack of clarity has stirred up frustration or tension for you personally, then avoid handling necessary conversations with texting (passive-aggressive) or emailing. Instead, go straight to that person and say something like, “Hey, help me understand where you’re coming from with this decision?” Or “Help me understand the situation.” Help me understand is the *magic* phrase for creating clarity. And know this: you will not be able to change your organization or your leaders. But you can change how you and your team respond to a lack of clarity—by creating clarity.
3. LACK OF COMMUNITY
Sometimes we treat our working environments like one of the original reality TV shows, SURVIVOR. We build alliances and yet see everyone as a potential opponent. We say one thing then turn around and do another. We are out to win the elusive prize regardless of who we have to run over in the meantime with our words, our actions, our decisions. And we do this as individuals, as teams, as departments, or ministry areas when there is a lack of community across the organization.
If building community in the workplace is part of your work responsibilities, then step up. Don’t wait for the perfect time, the optimal plan, or the “right” people. Do the best with what you’ve been given to build community and start right now. And if it’s not part of your responsibilities, do what you can to champion and support your coworkers and build community with them.
SURVIVAL SKILLS FOR LACK OF COMMUNITY:
Invite the opinion of others by engaging them in a conversation. Ask your people what they think the community should look like, what the community should be. Don’t assume you know what’s best for everyone. A little communication goes a long way in building community.
Make it a point to get to know your coworkers and their stories. Knowing each other’s stories builds a community of understanding, grace, and trust. Challenge your team to get to know some new people in the office outside of your particular area (here’s a great opportunity to model this).
Recognize that you have the opportunity to influence the community even when you haven’t been given the authority to create the community. And remember, you can’t be all things to all people, and that’s okay. You do you—and encourage community the best way you know how—and then champion others doing the same thing in their own way.
The views expressed in this article are based on my own personal observations, experiences, and opinions. But I’d love to hear about yours too! You can share them with me here: firstname.lastname@example.org