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Playing Politics At Work and Winning

Adapting our behavior will help us to be more effective at work, happier and get stuff done.

Karlyn Borynsenko, Zen Workplace

For many people, the thought of office politics conjures mental images of mud-slinging, cloak and dagger, good ole’ boy network, and gossiping girl laughter. Organizational psychologist Dr. Karlyn Borynsenko says it doesn’t have to be this way.

At a marketing conference in Boston earlier this month, Borynsenko underlined the fact that office politics will always be a reality and they will impact your experience at work. Effectively playing the game at your organization will you to do more and be a change agent.

Politics are the unspoken words of the workplace. Adapting our behavior will help us to be more effective at work, happier and get stuff done. Here’s what Borynsenko recommends to be successful.

Know that people are not logical or rational. While one hopes people will make logical decisions, the reality is that we use data to justify what we already decided to do. This happens in our brains on a subconscious emotional level. Our brains are hard wired in three key ways – old (motivated by food, survival, sex), mid (emotions, feelings) and new brain (logic, reason). Humans make decisions emotionally and justify them rationally. We filter objective information based on emotional responses. When you rely solely on data, you fail. Emotion always wins out over data.

Relationships are your goal. You have to get people to like you. Respect is not an emotion and more commonly has a negative association. But when people like you, they start to move and you have greater influence. Perception comes from relationships and how you are perceived means everything. In fact, a global workplace study determined that 85% of a person’s success comes from soft skills versus only 15% from technical knowledge. Relationships help you influence others and tap into the emotional part of your brain. Very important to note, when people see you try, others will come around. You don’t have to be perfect in relationships, you just need to be trying and working toward improvement.

People have different natural tendencies. We like different things: cats and dogs, winter and summer, brown cars and red – we have different values and that’s okay. Accept these differences in others. Figure out what they need and adapt your behavior accordingly. Once you’ve figured someone out, mirror them and give it back, even if it’s not comfortable for you. Some of the main ways to engage with people on a more emotional level are to:

1. Listen. Give your undivided attention on a consistent basis with no expectation, just acceptance. This is when people will feel like you have their back. People do not emotionally engage with technology: meet face to face, not email.

2. Be vulnerable. Psychological safety requires you to be vulnerable and allow others to be vulnerable. Choose to empathize with and understand each other to develop the psychological safety. What you do for others, you do for yourself.

3. Safety. Even if you don’t agree with what they say, it costs you nothing to create safe spaces. Most people feel POWERLESS and act out in strange ways. Give them their power back. Change your measure of success which may simply be to act with integrity, be of service to the people around you, show compassion and empathy (even when others don’t). TREAT others the way THEY want to be treated.

Always look for the win-win. You don’t need to defeat someone to win. If you shoot for a 7 out of 10 compromise, that will ensure the other person leaves with something. Understand the other persons motivations. People so often are motivated by a fear of failure, being wrong or suffering a loss. If they perceive that they are losing, then game is lost and you lose too. In the workplace, know whose goals align with yours and your enemies – subdue without fighting, build a golden bridge for them to retreat across. Give them what they want – these willing tradeoffs will help bring resolution. When you give your enemy a win, they will stop being your enemy!!

Pick your battles. Political capital is fluid, not finite. Keep your mouth shut. If there is too much passion there, then take a breath, take a minute and detach. Be like water – go with the flow instead of resisting. It’s not about being right, its about being effective. Know that behavior change takes time, but decide now to be the example you want others to follow. Disagree without disagreeing by asking questions. You need to find a way to give them power. Try disarming statements like, “I see you struggling, but I don’t know what you want. Help me to understand.”

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