Office politics can help you get ahead

The skinny on office politics and getting ahead

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Our human nature makes us political animals, and politics extends into the workplace. According to one definition, office politics represents attempts to curry support based on personal relationships rather than merit. In the rare, enlightened business environment, office politics is less about trying to be a low-down, back-stabbing brown-noser than it is about getting interesting job assignments that enhance one's long-term career, the real payoff with well-played office politics. You may need to learn about behavior modification to get those plum assignments, though.

To help you advance you career without really trying, this month, Russ Kratowicz, Executive Editor, dives into the morass we call the Web in search of the pearls--those zero-cost, non-commercial, registration-free resources we all love and cherish.

Defining it

So, what are we talking about when we say office politics? Richard Lowe provides an answer, sort of, in his article Office Politics Defined. Rather than giving a direct answer, he uses vignettes and anecdotes that provide more insight into a nuanced definition of this elusive topic. Go to http://www.goodleader.org/office-politics-defined.htm, where you'll see the main article and links to three side stories.

A page on office politics by iVillage UK Limited presents links to a collection of brief tutorials and one-issue Q&A pieces. Visit http://www.ivillage.co.uk/workcareer/survive/archive/0,,156475,00.html to start searching.

The good and the bad

In April 1998, the Boston-based magazine Fast Company ran an article by senior editor Michael Warshaw, titled The Good Guy's (and Gal's) Guide to Office Politics. It's worth reading the 3,400-word article because Warshaw makes a clear distinction between the "good" and "bad" types of office politics and shows how to use office politics to make good things happen. Point your mouse at http://www.fastcompany.com/online/14/politics.html and grab an interesting read.

A good tool

If you plan to participate only in "good" office politics, be sure to read Three Magic Words by Marty Nemko. The article is short, but offers powerful advice that could change the way that your coworkers view you. Click over to http://wlb.monster.com/articles/3words/ for the details.

Preventing it

The bad type of office politics should be eradicated, just like the smallpox it is. Frank James at The James Gang Advertising Inc., Toronto, Ontario, brings you the wisdom of a variety of HR professionals on the topic. Mouse your way over to http://officepolitics.com/index1.html and click on How to battle office-politics, found in the lower left of the page. This takes you to his selection of short, easy-to-read tips and tricks contributed by the people in the political trenches.

Coping

Coworkers are the number one on-the-job stressor, as the next site notes, but learning to deal with them can establish you as a capable individual. You might even enjoy working again. Coping with the eight types of work groups and the six types of people in those groups is the message contained in Corporate Survival: Dealing with people in the corporate culture by Edward B. Toupin. I'm sure you'll recognize some of the characters he describes at http://www.americaninsurancedepot.com/help/officepolitics.htm.

A site full of advice

Gerald Graham, dean of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University, is the author of Eliminate office politics and end many problems in companies. In it, he offers practical suggestions for reducing the impact of politics. But that's not all you'll find at http://careerplanning.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://amcity.com/wichita/stories/020998/newscolumn4.html. After Graham's page loads, read his article and then take advantage of the links to several other articles about office politics just to the right of the article itself.

Body language

Researchers say much of our communication is contained in our movements, delivery and facial expressions, and relatively little in the words we choose. A big part of "making it look good" is actually looking good. To make it happen, you need to know something about body language, that unspoken way of communicating that transmits more content than words ever could.

In his article, Body language can deliver your message, author Matthew Osborn says that managers don't need to understand problem details, they need to understand what it takes to get people to address and solve problems. He illustrates his point with an anecdote about a manager of few words who used eye contact most effectively. It's a short article that makes a strong point, so focus your baby-blues on http://www.zdnet.com.au/itmanager/management/story/0,2000029576,20272317,00.htm .

The popular press tries to attach profound meaning to even the most insignificant and mundane body position and movement. The business world needs something a bit simpler. Take, for instance, Decoding body language, an article by John Mole. He reduces body language to two dimensions--open/closed and forward/back--which results in four possible postures--responsive, reflective, combative and fugitive. The link at the bottom of the piece offers access to sketches of people in the postures. So, wake up your mouse and point it at http://www.johnmole.com/articles18.htm.

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