The term office politics comes with a lot of negative connotations. It 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 and we report to senior figures we don’t tend to get involved in the shady world of office politics. Although I agree to a certain extent that we should avoid office politics, I also think that we should be aware of what it involves, how to play the game and use it to our advantage. Here are a few tips on how Assistants can learn the rules of office politics without playing dirty!
In its most straightforward 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. 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. 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). I’m talking about the kind of conflict 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 often face criticism that should actually be directed at our Executive. We deal with colleagues who take their frustration out on us and clients who offload their grievances on what is considered any easier target than our Executive.
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 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 Executive and the business. Thinking strategically and acting neutrally is the best course of action. By following this path, you won’t be picking sides or making the conflict personal. Instead, 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 Assistants quite often by-pass the IT procedures if their Executive needs IT support them in a meeting. Assistants won’t log a call like most of their colleagues. Instead, they will phone the person in IT and ask them to come straight over which they will do because they know the Assistant works for a Director. Now that can annoy your colleagues, but it is just you using your influence to benefit your 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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