Using Office Politics – Why Not Play the Game?

By admin ~ November 18th, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

“I don’t play games at work,” proudly declares the naive, unsavvy person who needs to believe that all it should take to succeed is hard work and talent. After all, it is a fundamental message many of us heard growing up from parents and educators who also needed to believe in this simplistic formula for success; the alternative was just too frightening. If it did indeed take more, the end goals couldn’t be reached fairly and success would then be available only to the devious, the unscrupulous, and those who engaged in “the game.” Working hard and developing skills and talents were seen as controllable, attainable and most importantly, the right things to do. Playing the game, or engaging in office politics, was the dark shadow side of success, hard to decipher and tainted by unfairness.

So waving the “I don’t play the game” banner became the herald of those who believed they were working righteously and were even willing to suffer for it. Recently a man in his late fifties told me that he could have gone a lot farther in his company but he refused to play the game; his exact words. Imagine his surprise when instead of patting him on the back for his brave moral stand, I expressed my sympathy for his lack of understanding and success. Poor guy, laboring for years under the false notion that not playing the game was something to be proud of even if it cost him the rewards he wanted.

He is not a rare case, but very representative of many workers who need a major change of perspective. It starts with the very basic acceptance that the world and the workplace are intrinsically not fair. Working hard, obtaining credentials and honing skills do not guarantee success. Would it be that easy! We all know very talented people who never caught a break. Gifted writers go unpublished. Genius inventors can’t find backers. Promising corporate talent doesn’t even get noticed. Life isn’t fair!

I think every one of us wishes that all we should have to do is work hard and somehow the big ledger in the sky would balance the accounts and hand us our just rewards. But eventually we need to face reality, we have to grow up and take notice of how the world really operates. We have to study the strategies and behaviors of those who do succeed and apply the knowledge to our own circumstances. We need to pay attention to what is really rewarded and by whom in our own organizations.

We need to learn how to play the game! Still can’t swallow that phrase easily? Well, just consider “the game” as nothing more than the preferred style and behaviors of those in power in your world. Give them what they need, prefer and what they will reward. Your boss is a stickler for punctuality; show up early. She is always expressing how overwhelmed she is; offer solutions. She values loyalty; never tackle her in public.

See, that’s not so hard! It’s really just common sense. Give people what they want and they will be more willing to help you get what you want. And this simple fact is based on an even more fundamental principle of the game – you can’t succeed by yourself. You need the resources, knowledge and assistance of others; you need a network that can and will deliver for you. The more people experience you as being mutually beneficial, in large and often most importantly in very small ways, the more inclined they are to assist you.

Still declaring you don’t play games at work? Well, what you are really saying is, “I play a game called…I don’t play games at work.” Your game, or preferred style and strategy, is to not bend to others, but rather insist they play by your rules: do things the way you think they should be done. Being stubborn, inflexible and righteous is hardly the way to influence people.

Playing “the office politics game” is really playing an artful influencing game with those whom you need. Many nuances, unwritten rules, and savvy strategies comprise the game well played. But you can at least start by recognizing you need the assistance of others and that you are willing to give them what they need or want to smooth the way for productive and effective interactions.

With whom you play is another level of the game…and another article.

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