Nancy Halpern helps companies find solutions to the most intractable of problems – office politics – by leveraging thought leadership and intellectual capital from 20+ years of consulting experience. Her career spans running a ballet company to running operations for a $1B global importing corporation.
How can I improve at office politics without compromising my integrity or authenticity?
Whenever smart people compete for limited resources, the climate gets political. Since resources are always limited, you will always have to deal with politics in the office. Many of us think about office politics as a game that must be played, or something that’s underhanded and only used by people of lesser integrity. This is not only limited thinking, it’s naive. Being politically savvy means mastering a series of behaviors such as reading the chessboard, creating good will and influencing others to your point of view.
Two key skills to master are creating strategic alliances and managing up effectively. Strategic alliances involve identifying who has influence in your organization and how you might mutually benefit each other. Much has been written about dealing with your boss, but what’s crucial is that you can easily rattle off his or her top priorities and match your workflow to theirs. Understanding that managers crave attention and respect as much as you do will help you both become go-to resources as well as remove stumbling blocks that may have prevented you from building a closer relationship.
What are effective strategies for introverts to make their voices better heard in the workplace?
The American workplace favors extroverts, which can make it hard for the quieter among us to have our voices heard. This is especially true in contentious meetings where tempers are high or if you work in a culture that allows interruption or rapid debate. This doesn’t mean that introverts can’t be heard – it means that they need to adopt specific strategies to make sure they are heard:
- Speak up as early in the meeting as possible. You will have both the relief of not waiting for the “perfect moment” as well as a sense of accomplishment that you contributed.
- Ask a question that forwards the discussion or builds on someone else’s good idea (which will earn you their gratitude in the process).
- Prepare a question or two ahead of time so you don’t have to think of something on the spot while you’re busy processing what’s happening.
- Have an accountability colleague in the meeting, even a manager or a mentor, who will ask you a question to ensure that you are drawn out and included in the discussion.
If I disagree with a decision my boss has made, is there a way to speak up without putting myself at risk?
That all depends on the boss, their style and the relationship you have. Some bosses claim they love being challenged and they mean it — they get energized from the exchange of differing points of views. Yet others say they do, but don’t really mean it — they resent what they see as your questioning of their expertise or authority. The level of risk also depends on the importance of the issue. If it’s something minor, and your viewpoint represents a small shift, then the risk is far less than if you are disagreeing on a major initiative or policy direction, in which case you might be seen as obstructionist or stubborn. Consider testing the water by having a private conversation with your boss, focusing on your business concerns and the potential impact of the decision. Be prepared not just with an objection, but with an alternative, ready to defend why it will result in a better outcome.