Below are some additional thoughts on politics and the importance of girls and women learning what to expect and how to manage politics at work. The Secret Handshake and It’s All Politics were written to help with this endeavor — for women and men. Recent research by Catalyst indicates, however, that women are far more likely than men to feel like outsiders in high tech industries. But these feelings are prevalent in other fields as well. It’s time to deal with them head on. The first step is becoming politically inquisitive. ( Also see Big Think Blog published today)
A significant portion of benign workplace politics involves interpersonal competence – saying the right thing at the right time. Less commendable tactics have among them granting favors, rewarding similar others, and providing advantage to those who play along to get along. At the far end of this continuum are deception and manipulation.
While some forms of politicking are questionable and even despicable, to reject all politics often undermines career progress for women in particular. Why? They are usually uncomfortable with politics, seeing it as giving unfair advantage to those who don’t deserve it. But if you’re working in a political arena, you can’t afford to be politically oblivious.
The first step in the process of upping your game is developing political inquisitiveness – not only about where and with whom you work, but also about the limits of your own political style. Are you a purist, for example, who believes that good work will be rewarded without the need for politics? Or are you a street fighter who has learned the ropes and believes that competence is not noticed unless you make it visible, know when and how to stand your ground and sometimes give as good as you get?
Women who move up the ladder in their organizations operate like behavioral anthropologists; they become students of politics. They observe dysfunctional patterns to which they might be contributing, such as allowing others to talk over them, dismiss their ideas, treat them with contempt or steal their ideas. They recognize that they’re at least 75% responsible for how others treat them and learn how to alter types of interactions taking them nowhere. There are a number of blogs on this site about choice points and comebacks that pertain to skill development in this area (See categories in right column of this page).
Aside from observing how the people above them get things done, the politically inquisitive identify colleagues who not only understand political activity in their organization, but who are willing to share that information. Unfortunately, people who have political knowledge rarely seek out others with whom to share it. For them, it was hard won. If you can seek them out, invite them to lunch, win their trust, and make their job easier somehow, they may reciprocate with valuable political information and encouragement. Yes, this burden should be shared with the organization — one led by people seeking to manage politics so that talented employees are retained and rewarded. If that exists in your organization, all the better. But individual political know-how is important as well.
Political inquisitiveness doesn’t require that you actually like workplace politics. It doesn’t mean staying in an environment that’s rife with virulent forms. It does, however, require recognizing that few major developments in any department, company or industry get done without some level of politics. Wherever there is competition, especially for scarce resources, politics is operative. It’s better to go in with your eyes open.