Office Politics are a fact of corporate life; positive or negative – politics happens. The reality is that politics is how power is managed on a practical basis everyday.
The drama that unfolds as co-workers and top leaders play the game, form alliances, take credit, manipulate, trade favors to move upowards, show favoritism or schmooze can be interesting, entertaining, exciting or frightening – depending on your perspective. Raise your hand if you hate politics! Shouldn’t talent, performance, and hard work be what advances our careers, ladies?

Women Leadership

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Think about it. Did you know that …

  • more than half of the employees in organizations are female as relates to the lower hierarchical levels? With each higher level, the number of women continuously decreases. And at the CEO level, worldwide, there are only 3% to 4% who are women.
  • according to a 2015 Women in the Workplace study, for every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted? As a result, fewer women end up on the path of leadership, the report states.
  • the latest survey by Catalyst, a nonprofit that tracks gender parity in the workplace, reveals that women occupy an insignificant 4% of corner offices at S&P 500 companies?  And they hold only 25% of senior-level jobs in those same firms.
  • since 2005, the number of women who are world leaders—presidents or heads of state—has more than doubled (according to the Pew Research Center)?
  • a study by Columbia Business School found when a woman had been given one of the five highest-paying executive positions, the likelihood of other women following her to executive level fell by 50 per cent? The study also noted that companies often have a quota for the number of high-level women. Once it’s filled, it’s harder for other women to move up the chain. On the upside, when a woman had been appointed the chief executive, other women were more likely to make it into senior positions.
  • women are much more forgiving when it is a man engaging in cutthroat political manoeuvres?

So, is it really true that women must perform twice as well to be thought half as good in the workplace? Let’s explore how men and women navigate the minefield. Politics are an inevitable part of the back-and-forth mechanics of decision-making, and the right strategies can make dealing with political situations much easier. Yet, men and women take slightly different approaches.

Guys consider office politics to be more of a knockabout game, and when they are outplayed, they don’t hold grudges. Men tend to be hierarchical, competitive, and concerned with who is bigger, better, stronger, or whatever, which can create unhealthy competition with coworkers. Some guys have trouble acknowledging that anyone has the authority to direct their activities, which sometimes gets them into trouble with their managers. Men are less likely to admit mistakes and offer appropriate apologies, sometimes leaving others annoyed and angry. Men may see a need for collaboration as a sign of weakness. They are then less likely to form helpful partnerships with work colleagues.

Office politics has very little to do with morality and everything to do with managing relationships and getting the job done. In other words: it’s not optional. In performance discussions, women on average get acknowledged for how they forge relationships, i.e. managing clients, vendors, peers and direct reports. Yet, women tend to get lower marks when it comes to managing up. Women are more likely to have emotional reactions to business issues, which can lead to unnecessary conflicts. Women tend to use “conditional speech”. They often qualify their statements with words like ‘maybe’ or ‘probably’, making them seem less certain of their views. In meetings, presentations, and discussions, women often give away their power by allowing men to interrupt and take over. Never give up the floor.

Office politics is a familiar term in all professional arenas. In the dictionary of a professional woman, though, it almost spells like a dirty word. Most women choose to keep away from anything termed as office politics because a large percentage of them view it as unethical, manipulative, unauthentic behavior. You cannot change the sink-or-swim environment or senior management, but you can choose your attitude. You always have a choice. Here is how women can flex their political muscle:

  • Be aware of what you are trying to achieve. When conflicts happens, it is easy to be sucked into tunnel-vision and focus on immediate differences. Chances are you’ll only invite more resistance by focusing on differences in people’s positions or opinions. Instead, in the light of what is best for the business, discuss the pros and cons of each option. Eventually, everyone wants the business to be successful.
  • Focus on your circle of influence. At work, there are often issues which we have very little control over. It is not uncommon to find corporate policies, client demands or boss mandates which affects your personal interests. Instead of feeling victimized and angry about the situation, focus on the things that you can do to influence the situation, i.e. your circle of influence. This is an empowering technique to overcome the feeling of helplessness. It removes the victimized feeling, and also allows others to see you as someone who knows how to operate within given constraints.
  • Seek to understand, before being understood. The reason people feel unjustified is because they felt misunderstood. Instinctively, we are more interested in getting the others to understand us than to understand them first. Top people managers and business leaders have learned to suppress this urge. Surprisingly, seeking to understand is a very disarming technique. Once the other party feels that you understand where s/he is coming from, they will feel less defensive and be open to understand you in return. This sets the stage for open communications to arrive at a solution that both parties can accept.
  • Never get personal. In office politics, you get angry with people. It happens. There will be times when you feel the urge to give that person a piece of your mind and teach him a lesson. Do not. People tend to remember moments when they were humiliated or insulted. Even if you win this argument and get to feel really good about it for now, you will pay the price later when you need help from this person. What goes around comes around, especially at the work place. The last thing you want during a crisis or an opportunity is to have someone screw you up because they habour ill-intentions towards you, all because you had enjoyed a brief moment of emotional outburst at their expense.
  • Strive for Win-Win. Political conflicts happen because of conflicting interests. In Western cultures, we were taught that to win, someone else needs to lose. Conversely, we are afraid to let someone else win, because it implies losing for us; that does not have to be the case, though. Think “how can we both win in this situation?”. Try to understand the other party’s perspective first, and what is in it for him/her. Next, understand what’s in it for you. Strive to identify a resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties. Doing this will ensure that everyone truly commit to the agreed resolution, and not pay only lip-service to it. Thinking win-win is an enduring strategy that builds allies, and help you win in the long-term.

The bottom line is that it is just not possible to opt out of the political game at work and still win in your career. One of the reasons politics makes so many of us uneasy is that complex situations are difficult to read and impossible to control. When personalities and motivations intertwine, anything can happen. Women will excel at developing others, inspiring and motivating others, relationship building, collaboration and teamwork.

Reframe the way you look at office politics and think of it as strategic relationship-building. Your career or your business are a team sport. You cannot run either in a vacuum. Contact us to refine your approach to managing office politics. We will help you swim with the sharks.

Go for it. Choose to lead – always.