Last week I wrote a blog which asked the question ‘Should assistants make themselves look busy?’ I’ve had some great responses from people regarding the issue of perception, the way we carry ourselves in the office and the interaction we have with our colleagues. All of this lovely feedback got me thinking about office politics in general. The term office politics does come with lots of negative connotations and is very much associated with game playing where the ability to win is equated with success and losing will keep you on the lowest step of the career ladder. In my experience, most assistants will steer very clear of this type of behaviour as we are keepers of highly confidential information reporting to senior figures and cannot get involved in the uncertain world of office politics. Although I agree to a certain extent that we should avoid office politics at all costs I also think that we should be aware of what it involves, how to play the game and use that to our advantage. Here are a few tips on how assistants can learn the rules of office politics without playing the game/ Office Politics – do you play along?

Basic rules

In its simplest form office, politics means the interactions of people in the working environment, the differences between colleagues, the conflicts, relationships and communications. We all have to work with other people, and for assistants especially we have to work with lots of different levels from the CEO to the office intern, so we need to have the necessary communication skills in place to deal with colleagues. Most assistants will change their communication style depending on who they are talking to and wouldn’t necessarily think this is playing at office politics but I would suggest this is knowing the basic rules and using them to our advantage.

Dealing with conflict

There will always be conflicts in the workplace; I’m not talking about physical punch-ups (although I have seen a couple of ‘discussions’ come close to that!) but the kind that will come at you over email or creep up on you before you know it. One of the downsides of being an assistant is that we do take a lot of criticism for things that may not necessarily be our fault or have anything to do with us. We are the public face of our company and the gateway to our Directors so we will get conflicts coming our way when colleagues are frustrated but can’t say anything to our manager or clients have been let down by the company and need to offload their grievances. How do we deal with this? Do we fight back and raise our voice, no we don’t. Neither do we flee the conflict scene in search of a quiet space to have a good cry. We choose how we are going to deal with the conflict despite our instincts telling us otherwise. Owning this choice, knowing how to react to conflict and calming the situation down is a characteristic of good politicians and I also think an attribute of great Assistants.

What is the best route to take?

When navigating the ups and downs of office politics the best route I’ve always found is to follow the one that is right for your manager and the business. When disagreements rear their ugly head by sticking to what is best for your manager and the business overall you are thinking strategically and acting neutrally. Although it is difficult to not think of what is best for yourself with time most assistants put their manager’s requirements first anyway so it is sticking to what you know.  By following this path, you won’t be picking sides or making the conflict personal so you are removing yourself from the nasty side of office politics where some of your other colleagues may reside.

What can assistants influence?

Politics is all about influencing the right people at the right time. Assistants can influence people because of the confidential matters we are entrusted with and also the close relationships we have with senior members of staff. Do we use this to our advantage – yes, I hope we all do! An excellent example of this is when I quite often by-pass the IT procedures if my Director needs IT support in a meeting. I won’t log a call like most of my colleagues; I’ll phone the guy in IT and ask him to come straight over which he will do because I work for a Director. Now that can annoy my colleagues, but it is just me using my influence to benefit my manager. Although there are many constraints in the workplace if we know what we can influence and what we can’t it will only help us. Office politics or proper use of our skills and position?

As I said before office politics can be a minefield, but I do think we need to be aware of the rules and who is playing the game.

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