The office can be an odd environment. The normal rules of human interaction, where you can just leave awkward situations and choose your friends, do not apply. Even squabbles on university projects can only last a term at most before you can escape the group from hell - and the only person you need to impress is a tutor and their standardised grading matrix.
Professional disagreements are natural and inevitable, so to prepare you for the office environment here the 5 biggest mistakes that you need to avoid when forging working relationships and navigating the stormy world of office politics.
1. Avoiding human contact
Office relationships are like preparing a house for flooding. A bit of effort now and come the torrent you will be prepared to withstand the damage. Make time to talk to your colleagues, build friendships and let them get to know you as a person - make sure you try to make those work drinks, even if you had other plans for the evening. If your colleagues like you, they will be more prepared to help you. If you like them, they won’t annoy you nearly as much.
2. Taking sides
It’s very tempting to sympathise with a colleague whose boss is on their back all the time, or whose team isn’t pulling its weight, and that’s fine. What you mustn’t do is get involved. Even if you feel the opinion can be justified, don’t become a stake holder in their problem.
Leave your fight for justice, morality and ethics to your personal life. Taking sides is often incremental, you might begin with just being the shoulder to cry on, but ask yourself honestly if your help is just stirring and enabling the upset colleague to ferment, not solve, their problems. As a rule of thumb, if you're saying anything at all negative about another colleague, you've gone too far.
3. Don’t kamikaze
If you have a problem with a colleague, ask yourself this question: how can we both win out of this situation? Sadly, life is not like an X-men movie when good can vanquish evil completely and you can rampage with metal claws to get your way.
In reality, to get what you want you will have to help someone else get what they want too. If you need a colleague’s help on a project, offer to help them in return on their project, or give them plenty of credit in your success.
4. Documenting your problems on Facebook
This is a big mistake as all it takes is a colleague or friend of a friend on your Facebook to see your moan about the boss and then life gets awkward - or you lose your job. Furthermore, passive aggressive Facebook updates do not count as solving your problems, no matter how many likes you get. Only proactivity will improve your working life.
5. Not documenting your problems
Conversely, you should use email as a way of recording your interactions with your colleagues. If you keep your emails professional you have written proof that your actions were reasonable. If you know someone might read what you’ve said then you will naturally stay on the right side and not be tempted to do something which will get you into trouble later on.
If you have a conversation with someone, immediately send them a follow up email to re-iterate what you agreed. Then the burden will be on them to disagree with you.
And so, in summary..
Office politics is really just about forging great working relationships. It’s about improving your quality of working life; no one wants to work with someone they don’t like.
If you remember to remain impersonal, objective and helpful, even if you don’t win every battle, you will ensure that you retain your good reputation. Which in the working environment is nothing short of victory.
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