Issue #28: How to navigate office politics without selling your soul to the devil and 5 things to help you this week
Office Politics doesn't have to be evil and can actually be a good thing
Hola friends! 👋
This week’s thoughts and feelings include:
How to navigate office politics without selling your soul to the devil
5 things to help you this week
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Apologies for not having FAKs in this week’s newsletter. It’s been a crazy few days closing Q2 and finishing Q3 planning with my team, as well as kicking off new coaching clients! Regular FAKs will resume in the next newsletter.
01 How to navigate office politics without selling your soul to the devil
Raise your hand if office politics has ever got you down. 🙋🏻♀️
I was having beers with friends last week and office politics was the hot topic. We talked about how office politics was sometimes our biggest source of stress. But, at the same, we admitted that office politics is an unavoidable, even natural, part of work.
I used to think that office politics was manipulation and ass-kissing. Therefore evil.
I first really observed office politics when I was in my 3rd job. There were just people in our organization who always “won”. Their ideas and projects were always approved. They could just walk up to the bosses and casually give them feedback and they were always consulted for everything. At the same time, they were always either up for a promotion or had consistent bonuses.
I also saw gifts being exchanged for Birthdays and Christmases. Also lunch invites and after work drinks too. So I thought that’s how you win. By bribery.
So I thought politics wasn’t for me.
In job number 4, I was employee number 1. And because of this, I was able to build a good relationship with my bosses before other people joined the company. This time, I noticed that I was the one who always won. My ideas were always approved. I could walk up to my bosses easily to give them feedback and I was consulted for almost everything. I also found myself consistently getting promoted or getting bonuses.
To make things even weirder, I started to notice that other people, when they wanted something from our bosses, would ask me for feedback and tips on how best to get them approved. Sometimes, I would actually find myself discussing some of these ideas with the bosses to help accelerate their implementation. More often than not, their ideas would get a yes a lot more often if I started planting the seeds first.
So I started asking myself, was I part of the evil politics world now?
But if it was evil, how come I was helping people?
And how come I still haven’t given nor received a single birthday gift?
Apart from my friends who were also my colleagues… Wait a minute 🤔
Office Politics Redefined
In job number 5, one of my senior managers (who eventually became my manager and later on, my coach) finally helped me understand what office politics really is, and why it was important.
I was working in an international organization, new to being a Product Manager, and hungry to have an impact.
This senior manager put me in front of so many people. She introduced me to Product Leaders from different parts of the organization and she made sure I attended company events.
I got to know so many people and made new friends. I also learned about Product Management really fast.
But even more important, when I needed help - I suddenly found myself with a network of people who were ready and willing to help me, even without the senior manager’s intervention. As a result, I got nominated for different training and got invited to join communities. Once, I wanted to take advantage of a training grant that allowed me to travel to our other offices, my network was there to help me find placements and get approvals.
In the end, I started seeing office politics for what it really was. Relationships and influence.
Senior Manager used her relationship and influence to help me grow in my career. And as a result, I started building my own relationships and growing my own influence.
It wasn’t this evil thing that I initially defined it to be. At least it didn’t have to be. Since then, I looked at office politics this way:
Understanding other people’s context and their priorities.
Using your voice and network to get feedback and support to push for things like decisions and directions. Or to do the same thing for other people.
Being in the position to help and influence a change.
Since I started looking at office politics in neutral light with the possibility of having a positive result, office politics was something I started to embrace. In fact, I stopped calling it office politics and just started to call it building trustworthy relationships.
Trustworthy relationships started to become a staple thing in my Product Management toolkit as well as my Career Toolkit.
As a result, I have been able to:
Open up opportunities for myself and for my team.
Be part of critical conversations with leadership to propose changes.
Help people outside of my immediate team.
In some cases accelerate initiatives resulting in a positive impact
Office politics doesn’t have to be a bad thing when the intention behind it is to get to know people, influence positive change, and help other people and the organization create an environment that allows people to maximize their impact.
The Dark Side of Office Politics
But I’m also not naive. Office politics is only as neutral as the people who use it to create impact. People’s values and intentions can color office politics in a negative way, whether intentionally or not.
When influence is used to negatively impact a person or a team. For example to spread rumors or to constantly diminish other people’s effort which may impact their reputation, their morale, and sometimes, even their opportunities.
When power and reach are used to reward a favored person or group of people over and over again regardless of their impact. Or when the same power and reach are used to withhold reward and recognition from people or groups because of a personal agenda or biased judgment.
When power and influence are used to sow discord between people, promote negative behavior, and put other people at a disadvantage.
And I’m sure there are many more.
I’m not going to lie. I have also played the bad politics game.
In one of my previous jobs, I was constantly annoyed by one of my colleagues. I saw them as lazy and demanding. I thought that they were the one creating a negative environment. And I wasn’t shy about my opinion. I let my work friends know exactly how I felt about this person. And this impacted their relationship with them. I used my influence the wrong way and the result was damaging.
“With great power comes great responsibility”.
Not my proudest moment. I can argue that I did this without realizing how much of an influence I actually had. But my ignorance still does not justify my actions.
And the impact was horrible. The other person, I found out much later, felt bullied. And she felt that she had fewer resources to do their job well. Because of me, there were people who were hesitant to extend their help to them. Their morale was impacted, as well as their self-worth.
While I have tried my best to repair our relationship, the damage has been done.
Navigating Office Politics
Office oolitics are unavoidable. And the bigger the organization, the more likely it is to have both kinds of politics - Positive and Damaging.
As Product Leaders, there are 3 ways we can navigate office politics in our organization.
Reframe what office politics can be for you and get good at it. As I mentioned above, office politics can be reframed and seen simply as building relationships, having a support system, and using this system to have a positive impact on the organization. Having a positive intention that is backed by your personal values can be a driver for your politics and can be a good motivator to improve your approach to politics.
Use politics to build a positive culture. Use your influence to create an organization that encourages transparency, open communication, and collaboration. Lead by example and show other people that office politics can be good and can actually be rewarding when used for good intentions. Doing so can help protect people who are vulnerable to negative politics or even help keep negative politics at bay. Sometimes the most important question to ask yourself is: HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Set clear boundaries for yourself. There will always be bad politics as long as there are people who are driven by their negative intentions in the organization. Their intentions and actions can impact you. Hold your values close, reinforce your self-worth, and learn which situations are meant to be let go. Not all battles need to be fought. Some people and their politics are not worth your energy and your attention. This is not an easy thing to do. But it is an important thing to do. And when it becomes difficult to uphold your boundaries, ask for help.
Politics is an unavoidable part of any organization. For corporate life, office politics can be an enabler for having more opportunities, creating a positive change, and producing a bigger impact.
But to achieve those results, we need to increase our influence. And the best way to do that is to build relationships with different people in the organization.
Politics in itself is neutral.
But it can have positive results when backed by positive intentions and aligned with our values. On the flip side, it can also have negative results when backed by destructive intentions.
At the end of the day, the best way for us to navigate office politics so it doesn’t feel dirty or soul-crushing is to focus on the positive side of politics. For us to use our energy to back our positive agenda. And to build strong boundaries to help us be unbothered by the negative side of politics. And for these, being intentional in our actions and reactions is key.
Dear reader, do you have other tips on how to navigate office politics that you want to share with the rest of our community? Share them in the comments below 🙏
Office politics fueling your stress? If you need help navigating office politics in your organization, I’d love to chat and see how I may help you learn new skills to help you do office politics on your own terms.
02 Five things to help you this week
17 Top Product Leaders shared their tips on how to say no to as a Product Manager. (I got to contribute to this article by Collato and found my name in the same list as my favorite product influencers in the community such as Jason Knight, Antonia Landi, Ant Murphy, and more! 😱)
What have you read lately that you would love for the whole world to read too? Sharing is caring! Please leave your recommendations in the comments below 🙏
But before you go!
My coaching calendar has some free slots starting in August! For the Product Managers and aspiring Product Leaders out there who are feeling stuck in their current role and unsure how to get to their next step. I’d love to help you. Let’s chat 💙
Are you struggling with your job search right now? Your application is being ignored? You get feedback along the lines of “We’re just looking for somebody with more experience”. Get my ULTIMATE GUIDE for creating a Sustainable Job Search system for the Modern Product Manager. And get cracking with 10% OFF.
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