Chapter Two

Navigating office politics

Whether or not you play along with office politics or run a mile, Assistants need to understand and navigate politics in the office.

The term office politics has many 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 avoid this 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, play the game, and use it to our advantage.

In this chapter, we will share strategies on how assistants can learn the rules of office politics and use them positively.

We will discuss the following topics:

How can Assistants navigate workplace politics?

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 avoid this type of behaviour.

As we are keepers of highly confidential information and 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, 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!

Basic rules

In its most straightforward form, office politics means people’s interactions in the working environment, the differences between colleagues, the conflicts, relationships and communications. We all have to work with other people, and as Assistants, we have to work with many 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). Instead, I’m talking about the 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 be directed at our Executive. We deal with colleagues who take their frustration out on us and clients who offload their grievances on an easier target than our Executive.

How do we deal with this?

Do we fight back and raise our voices? No, we don’t. We neither flee the conflict scene for a quiet space to cry. Instead, we choose how we deal with the conflict despite our instincts telling us otherwise. Owning this choice, knowing how to react to confrontation and calming the situation down is a characteristics of good politicians, and I also think they can be 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 pick sides or make the conflict personal. Instead, you are removing yourself from the nasty side of office politics where some of your 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 entrusted to them and our close relationships with senior staff members.

Do we use this to our advantage – yes, I hope we all do! An excellent example is when Assistants often bypass the IT procedures if their Executive needs IT support 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. That can annoy your colleagues, but you use your influence to benefit your manager.

Although there are many constraints in the workplace, knowing what we can influence and what we can’t only help us. Office politics or proper use of our skills and position?

As I said, office politics can be a minefield, but we must know the rules and play the game.

Meeting Agenda for Assistants and Executives

1:1 Meeting Template

The template you need to maximise the time spent with your Executive.

Questions to Ask a New Executive

Use this guide to work in sync with your Executive from day one.

How important is office culture?

An essential factor for Assistants when looking for their next opportunity is unsurprisingly salary, with 89% saying this was most important when looking for a new role. Interestingly, only a 3rd of respondents are happy with their current salary and benefits package!

A salary increase can be desirable and often a big motivator to change roles or even move industry. But interestingly, in the results of our survey, salary did not come out on top.

The number one is job content, with a staggering 92% saying it’s all about the job itself.

Secondly was workplace culture. A whopping 90% said this is their number one factor to consider when considering their next opportunity.

So if you think moving roles and salary is a big motivator, stop and consider job content and culture. These are equally as important – sometimes even more so!

How to spot a good office culture

90% considered workplace culture the most important thing when looking for a new employer. That is a huge percentage!

It can be challenging to get a sense of the office culture before you take the job, so here are a few tips to help you spot a great workplace:

  1. Has the organisation won any awards or put itself forward for any? Every year in the UK, The Sunday Times lists the top 100 firms to work for. Alternatively, look at the organisation’s website to see if they have been nominated or won accolades.
  2. Extend your research on the firm to include office culture, values and benefits (particularly around well-being). If the organisation has a social media presence, this is also an excellent place to look for examples of its office culture. For example, is their content fun and relaxed or professional and formal? This will give you a good understanding of the culture and atmosphere in the office.
  3. Remember, you can ask questions in the interview about the office culture! You will get a good sense of what to expect from the interviewer’s answers. During your interviews, also look at the office itself – what is the setup, and what does the furniture look like? Again a friendly environment shows that the employer is thinking about their staff.
  4. What is the overall package you are being offered? Although salary is not the number one driving factor, it is still essential. An employer that provides a good salary for your work shows that they will value you. Also, look at the overall benefits package. What else do they offer to retain employees?
  5. Lastly, you can also speak to your recruitment agency about the employer. For example, what type of candidates have they placed before, and if you will be a good fit.

Understanding the shadow structure in your Organisation

In this session, Liz will share a powerful tool for gaining awareness of the hidden power dynamics and spheres of influence within your company. You will learn the following:

  • Why the published organisation chart doesn’t necessarily reflect power within an organisation
  • How to commence mapping your own organisation’s shadow structure
  • A deeper awareness of the different ways influence operates within organisations

Knowing the shadow structure will empower you and reduce stress, enabling you to get things done more efficiently in your role.

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In conclusion, office politics can be daunting, but it is essential to understand the underlying elements of office politics and how to utilise them tactfully. Finding a balance between using office politics positively and avoiding “games” will give you an advantage in your career.

Understanding what occurs inside powerful teams, colleagues’ personalities, and investments in relationships will help you (and your team) forge ahead and can have great rewards. Overall, having a well-rounded understanding of different people’s roles in organisations and appreciating their boundaries are prominent when addressing these dynamics of workplace hierarchies.

The Assistant Mindset Online Course teaches practical strategies to approach office politics in a way that puts you at an advantage. We have tools that help you identify motivations among individuals so you can manage day-to-day decisions better. So don’t wait any longer – enrol on The Assistant Mindset Online Course today for helpful advice and tips on navigating administrative roles!


Next Chapter:

Understanding personality types at work
Chapter Three