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How to Navigate Through Office Politics and Avoid Favouritism

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Love it or loathe it, office politics are a reality that many of us will have to face in our professional lives. While it has negative connotations, it’s possible to work through office politics in an ethical manner so that it plays out to your advantage.

Politics in any workplace are inevitable – there will always be a system of power present. It also exists because competition naturally occurs between individuals who are seeking promotions or desirable projects. And in many organisations, there is also competition for limited resources.

While many of us might cringe at the thought of engaging in them, it’s something that needs to be understood in order to build a successful team and a successful career.

Effectively dealing with office politics is a sign of social intelligence, and it’s an essential skill for business leaders and professionals in any industry.

Identify the movers and shakers

Central to successfully navigating through office politics is identifying the real influencers. These might be employees who aren’t even in senior leadership roles, but still exert significant influence in their informal social groups. Observe the relationships around you and start to build them with the informal influencers. But make it genuine – no one responds well to fakery. While you’ll want to build trusting relationships, this also means you need to make a conscious decision not to align yourself with one “camp”. Be open to new relationships across the organisation, which will help you to keep a finger on the pulse.

Stay positive and stay away from negative politicking

Use your new networks to promote yourself and your team. Take initiative to highlight your achievements and seek out projects or opportunities where you know you can make a good impression. Through your observations of the workplace, it’s likely you will have identified those who don’t use their influence to benefit the organisation. It’s never a good idea to be discourteous to these people. Keep your cards close to your chest around them, but be friendly. Stay out of personal conflicts and always keep your comments or criticisms at an organisational level. Just like in any social setting, it won’t do you any good to engage in gossip or to take sides in arguments.

Business leaders need to play fair

If you’re a business leader, it’s likely you’ll face criticism for playing favourites. This can happen without you even knowing it, because it’s all about perceptions. If your employees perceive you to be playing favourites with certain members of staff, it can create a sense of instability and lower morale. It’s natural for leaders to hire people who are like them, or who share similar traits. And it’s also natural for people to treat those who are similar to them in a favourable manner. Avoid potential criticism by focusing on your behaviour and building a strong sense of self-awareness. Be sensitive to how your actions might impact your other team members who aren’t so similar to you. This is of increasing importance as workplaces strive to create diverse teams.

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Get to know individual strengths

Leaders hire individuals for their unique strengths and capabilities, and these should be recognised accordingly. Some members of staff might have more visible roles, in which case their achievements will be more recognisable. Leaders should make a conscious effort to acknowledge the contributions of staff at all levels, and to use their diverse skills to advance organisational goals.

Maintain an open door policy

This is the best way to avoid perceptions of favouritism and to address any concerns of dysfunctional office politics. As a leader, you want your team to feel like they can approach you with any concerns. Initiate performance reviews and give your employees a chance to voice their opinions in a safe environment. Continue to build your self-awareness and learn the sensitivities of your team.

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By Nick Bell


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