By Sean Wood
Five tips for handling office politics with skill and tact.
“If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”
Michael Jordan, Former Professional Basketball Player
Office politics can be both frustrating and unavoidable. There’s a social hierarchy and political structure anywhere that more than a few people work. Left unchecked, a few negative personalities can wreak havoc on team morale and cohesiveness, which can lead to an unhappy workplace, reduced productivity and high turnover rates.
The bad news is that you can’t avoid office politics or eliminate them from your organization. The good news is that, as a manager, you can help shape your organization’s culture so that office politics don’t create a negative environment.
Here are five ways that managers can help build a positive work culture:
1. Listen to your staff. Negative office politics are often hidden. They come in the form of gossip or sabotage, and the target might be largely unaware of the extent of what’s being said or done. As a manager, you may not be able to see the extent of issues on the surface, but you can listen for clues that suggest a deeper problem. For example, if someone seems to be having an overly-emotional reaction to something, ask for background information.
2. Pay attention to who is complaining about other employees. Negative office politics can also come in the form of employees who try to undermine others. If you have an employee who seems to bring other employees’ mistakes to your attention often, it’s a good idea to consider their motivations and take a close look at their own productivity before reacting.
3. Ask for anonymous feedback. Employees need a way to voice concerns without fear of repercussion. This allows you more insight into issues that might not come to your attention otherwise.
4. Acknowledge and manage negative influences. The phrase “one bad apple” comes to mind. Negative employees might include those who gossip or cause a negative work environment and those who complain about the company or job. This can have a domino effect, ruining company culture quickly, so don’t ignore it. Your whole team counts on you to deal with disruptive individuals. Sometimes that means having a frank discussion, sometimes it means initiatiating formal corrective action and sometimes it means terminating an employee.
5. Model good behavior. If you want to build a positive work culture where politics and gossip are minimized, you’ve got to walk the walk. Communicate openly, don’t gossip, treat everyone fairly and make sure your whole team knows those are your standard operating procedures. There are going to be days when you’re frustrated or tired and this is the hardest advice to follow, so have a plan for letting off steam in a positive way
Sean Wood is the owner of Three 8 Communications and previously worked for Sensis TX. He has over 30 years of writing experience and conducts media training sessions with numerous corporate executives.
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