Five tips to neutralise workplace politics

Shaun Thomson
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Gossiping, corporate backstabbers, and cliques all hark back to our school days (Source: Getty)

You can draw a lot of similarities between the school playground and business dynamics.

The unspoken rules you feel you have to follow, navigating the bullies, gossiping, the corporate backstabbers, and the cliques all hark back to our school days.

Such office politics seem to rear their ugly head no matter where you go, and for the vast majority of workers it can feel draining and very distracting.

Many businesses think that conflict between staff is just a necessary evil – it isn’t their responsibility unless it gets out of hand.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Businesses that have a high degree of office politics suffer the consequences in their productivity.

It results in a negative culture where there is tension in the air, and employees feel like they need to play the game or want to retreat, rather than concentrate on their duties.

There are five tactics that firms can implement to neutralise office politics, and create a more positive culture.

1. Avoid the ladder people

This means recruiting wisely. The best teams are comprised of workers that want to see their talent produce something better with others than they could produce on their own.

Ladder climbers aren’t interested in sticking around to see results. They only join the team because they think it might help in promotion chances, and they end up causing a lot of bitterness. Avoid these characters altogether if possible, choosing candidates who will stay in for the long haul. Scutinise CVs for job hopping and probe what drives them – if it’s only progression then steer clear.

2. Lead through your actions

This is all about practising what you preach, which leads back to being accountable yourself so that others can follow in your example.

If you want politics to be diluted, you have to practise that principle as a manager. That means mentoring everyone on the team, having no favourites, and focusing on everyone’s productivity.

When staff understand that everyone has clear accountability and cannot get away with sub-standard work, everyone’s performance improves.

3. Avoid the friend trap

We all want to be liked and listened to. However, a big mistake is trying to be everyone’s friend. This opens the door for favours and compromise.

Instead, you should focus on coaching, mentoring, and directing. Staying on this track will gain a reputation of being fair, which most teams will respect and follow.

4. Document and measure

Office politics can easily find their way into an issue when supervisors rely on their memories and opinions alone.

Instead, the use of consistent documentation of performance and objective metrics provide far better benchmarks that people can’t usually argue with.

5. Clear communication

Office politics find traction when people rely on gossip to answer their questions regarding what’s going on.

But regular communication fills the gaps so that gossip becomes irrelevant. Since everyone is getting the same messaging and vision, there is no confusion about the intention of what you meant. Staff perform better when they feel part of the vision of where the company is headed.

Teams work best when everyone has input, and that can’t happen if staff feel a co-worker is undermining them.

Cultivating a new culture and eliminating office politics takes time, but it can be achieved with fairness, maturity, and consistency. The business will benefit, and staff retention levels will also increase as the company becomes a happier place to work.

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