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Don’t Quit! Just Play The Game

Bitchy colleagues, whimsical bosses, annoying subordinates and a stressful office atmosphere are definitely not the newest phenomena in our lives. We’ve all faced them at some point. But how do you move past them?

brunch Updated: Feb 25, 2012 20:03 IST
Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi

Bitchy colleagues, whimsical bosses, annoying subordinates and a stressful office atmosphere are definitely not the newest phenomena in our lives. We’ve all faced them at some point. But how do you move past them? Get into fights at work? Rat out troublesome colleagues to your boss? Become the quintessential ‘yes boss’ dummy and lose your identity? Or simply quit your job?

The answer is: none of the above. In the hugely competitive professional scenario we work in, it is only natural to come across people who’ll try to climb up the career ladder with their feet on your back. Backbiting, rear-licking, jealousy and politics at your workplace are a reality and there’s not much you can do to change that. But you don’t have to give up or simply shrug and live with it. Instead make sure office politics doesn’t turn you into a bad worker. As HR executive Sharad Mehta says, “It is best to work your way up the ladder cutting through the politics. Nothing else really makes a difference.”

Multi-taskingBut how? If you’re surrounded by people trying to manipulate and pull you down, how do you climb up that ladder without being knocked off? Play office politics as though it’s a game, say experts. And play it well – but play it fair and square.

“It is like a game of strategy,” says Rohini Mehra, a corporate executive who learnt this through experience. “You need to recognise and understand your resources and use them effectively without machination to achieve your goals.”

1. Understand your surroundings
Once in an organisation, understand its work dynamics. “This includes your work profile, colleagues, the team you’re working with and the competition, besides, of course, the company’s work culture,” says Ritesh Sinha, HR manager in an IT firm. It is important to evaluate what you’re surrounded by, working with factors such as how a certain person behaves, the expectations of your boss (and her or his boss) and how results are evaluated.

2. Keep your records straight
Never, ever mess up your work. Meet your deadlines and stay as honest to your job as possible. This establishes your credibility as a good worker and negates the possibility of anyone pointing fingers at you. “There are a lot of instances when people try to malign their colleagues, subordinates or even bosses,” says Mehta. “At that time, the only thing that comes to the concerned person’s defense is his/her work record. If that is fine, no one can question him or her.”

3. Play on the front foot
If your colleagues try and put you on the spot, don’t get defensive. “The only way to handle insinuations and politics is by addressing the issues on merit,” says Neeraj Venkat, a corporate lawyer who was once put in the dock by a colleague who blamed him for a miscommunication with a client. “Thankfully, I had copies of all mails exchanged with the client. And good feedback from the client also helped me to establish my stand,” says Venkat. “Once I gave the evidence to my boss, my colleague didn’t know where to look. I was vindicated.”

4. Keep up the good humour
It is great to be the boss’ blue-eyed boy or girl, but it is far more rewarding to have great camaraderie with colleagues and subordinates. Be nice and polite with everyone. While sometimes you may need to be firm with your co-workers, make sure you never insult anyone. “Never privilege one and prejudice the other. You never know who at what point can become your ally,” says Sinha.

5. Don’t be part of a clique
While it is necessary to maintain friendly and cordial relations with everyone, make sure that you are not looked upon as a part of a particular group or a certain person’s man. You have to be neutral and not take sides. “Forming cliques is often viewed negatively and motivates the competition to work against you even if you’re not at fault,” says Rohini Mehra.

6. Confront and communicate
Clear communication always cuts across office politics. Be transparent and back your arguments with solid facts. “Be polite, persuasive and firmly assertive when it comes to fighting for a ‘cause’. Also, if you need to clear misgivings, it is always advisable to confront the person one-on-one instead of sneaking to a senior. It bonds the team wonderfully,” says journalist Shalini Singh.

7. No blame game
Appraisal time or deadline time, the instant reaction is always to promote yourself while putting down your co-workers. But that’s bad strategy, say experts. “Never talk about a third party. Just talk about yourself, your achievements, and problems and expectations on an individual basis,” says Mehta. “You don’t need to say ‘that person didn’t do it, but I did it’. Simply say that you did something and leave it to your senior to understand that the other person didn’t.”

8. Your boss is no fool
Your boss can be whimsical, irrational or great. But she or he definitively isn’t a fool. She or he wouldn’t be a boss if that was the case. So believe in your boss. Learn from his/her weaknesses and imbibe the strengths. Support her or him and let them rely on you. “You don’t need to agree with everything they say, but push your point forward with due merit. An intelligent boss will always be open to suggestions. Win your boss’s confidence and you would have killed 50 per cent of office politics,” says Mehta.

From HT Brunch, February 26

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