‘Office Politics’ – you’re not alone and how to improve it

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“When I met Joanna I was in a tough spot, trying to navigate my way through some difficult political situations within my team and what felt like a very toxic environment. 


After an initial conversation, I felt like Joanna would be able to help guide me through the next few months, so I signed up for a 7-session programme. 


Joanna got straight to the point, understanding the environment I was in, all the different characters I was dealing with, and she started to help me unpick where the issues were. 


We spent a lot of time working out what the problems really were, the direct conversations I needed to have, and also getting me to see things from a different perspective.  


The political intelligence Joanna helped me develop allowed me to realise that others may not see me the same way that I see myself, and vice versa. I can honestly say that 7 sessions later, I am a different person.


I feel so much more confident in myself and my abilities, and often stop to think about how something may be perceived or viewed by my team.”

Negative ‘Office Politics’ is one of the biggest causes of work place stress and absence in the UK.

Additionally, it diminishes effective decision-making and productivity for companies, creates a damaging environment, and often stunts career progression for individuals. If you’re feeling some of these effects, you are far from alone. Most of my clients’ professional challenges are related to others at work.

Retreat or blame? There is another way

Often, people feel there is nothing that can be done or have an extreme view that it’s either all their fault and they feel to blame or it’s someone else or several others who are at fault. It’s rarely one extreme or another but a result of different people not considering enough what they communicate or how they react to others.

Blame is not helpful. Retreat isn’t either – never ignore ‘Office Politics’ as while there are people with differing views, motives and values, there will be ‘politics’. So, what is the other way?

First, be prepared to invest effort

While the real example I opened with shows that most situations can be improved and dramatically so, it requires effort, and sometimes a financial investment to bring in an expert like me. In almost 10 years, I have only had to advocate leaving the business to three clients. Everyone else has carefully, slowly, and considerately turned the situation round.  However you decide to tackle the situation you find yourself in, working on your self-awareness will be crucial. You need to be brutally honest about the situation and prepared to look at what is really going on – which can be tough.  For each of the following steps, think about where you are and what you need to do to start making negative ‘Office Politics’, positive.

Analysis: the starting point to turning negative ‘Office Politics’ around

Always begin with a detailed analysis of yourself and the people involved in the challenging work situation. I gather a lot of information from my clients and ask lots of questions to distil the root of the challenges. At this stage, I’m fundamentally trying to establish:

  • Who the other key individuals are in the situation.
  • The current status of the key relationships, both with regard to my client and other key people.
  • How my client is perceived.
  • The organisational dynamics, culture and recent history that have contributed to the current situation.
  • The personal dynamics of individuals.

To help you see what this can look like, here’s a summary of the challenges my client in the above case study faced:

  • The previous team leader had been absent for a lot of time and had also spoken negatively to the team my client was now managing about the company and other people.
  • The team had got used to communicating with the next level up, in the absence of the team leader.
  • My client had been promoted from amongst her peers.
  • The individuals in the team had some particular ways of needing to be dealt with and developed – as most people do.

Develop your strategies

After distilling the key challenges fully, we develop very specific strategies to turn this around. So for this client, there were several key elements to work on over a few months.

Fundamentally, my client’s key task was to build trust with her team, as well as demonstrate her capability for the role and for leadership. Figure out what your key task is.

This meant working on the specifics of how she:

  • dealt with each individual
  • managed upwards to get the support of her boss
  • developed a vision for the team and got their buy in on it.

Turn the situation around

Ultimately, we can’t change others except by changing ourselves. My client took on that responsibility.

After each of our sessions together, my client left with specific actions to trial; whilst doing this she would observe further elements which improved her understanding of what was really going on.

Therefore, at our following session together, we would discuss what had happened since we last met, including her additional observations and the outcome of trying the actions we’d agreed. This is really key to getting where you want to be and overcome your challenges; continually practising new more positive behaviour so that it becomes more normal. My role is to provide guidance, insight and accountability so progress gets made and my clients turn the situation around.

Top tip: never ignore ‘Office Politics’

‘Office Politics’ can be very challenging. However, it’s not an area to ignore if you want to progress. I firmly believe learning new and relevant skills in the context of a real-life situation is the most powerful way to improve the current situation and learn life-long career skills; my clients agree.

If you want to read more on this important topic, you can access my detailed article on ‘Office Politics’ here.

Joanna GaudoinAbout the author

Joanna Gaudoin, Inside Out Image specialises in helping ambitious professionals and their organisations improve performance and achieve their goals.

She does this by helping them master and strategically use the business skills of Personal Impact and Relationship Management. These skills are required for professional success.

Before establishing Inside Out Image, Joanna worked in marketing and consultancy in large corporates. She understands the business world and its challenges. She now helps organisations and individuals understand how to succeed in it.

If you are a job seeker or someone looking to boost their career, then WeAreTheCity has thousands of free career-related articles. From interview tips, CV advice to training and working from home, you can find all our career advice articles here.

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