Office politics are present in every organisation with more than one employee. And in every instance, it has the power to poison the company from the inside out, killing it slowly.
I’m sure you’ve also seen it happen at the department level – power plays between employees. I’ve seen it before where staff members will not do certain tasks, see issues but will not resolve it, or worst, sabotage efforts of another to make them seem incompetent.
Such negative activities reduce the capability and productivity of the department. And in the IT department, it can be hazardous for your data, which can become pawns in this dangerous game of chess play.
So what can you do about it?
1. Do not get involved
Often the manager or team supervisor will get involved with the gossip and negativity with the intention of being “friends”, but this just adds fuel to the flames. Don’t do that! Nothing demoralises a department or business more than the leadership getting involved in the politics, even if done behind closed doors.
So what to do instead?
2. Listen and Be Open
When there is conflict or negativity, listen carefully to your staff and team. Do not interject or offer advice, no matter how much you want to. Get the person talking about what is going on. Why do they feel the way they do? What do they think cause it? What do they want to happen? What would they like the environment to feel like?
Do not judge. Just listen and take notes (after asking if it is okay to do so first).
3. Mirror and empathise
This is a very tricky area here. You do not want to make light of anyone’s issues, but also you do not want to agree that they are right (unless for sure they are). Instead empathise with the way they feel saying something, “and this whole situation has you feeling… angry? Disappointed?” or “I understand that you may be feeling frustrated”. The idea here is to let the other person feel felt.
4. Formulate an action plan
Once the person is talking and is open to dialog, formulate an action plan as to what needs to happen next. It might be tempting to bring the other person in, but I suggest that you talk to the other person in private first to get them open to dialog as well. Once that happens, then you can have both in the room with you as a mediator. Mediation is another skill that I will address in another article, but for now, know that it is something that may be required.
Ensure to set deadlines to when certain things are to happen so that there is not another issue of unmet expectations.
Issues addressed, what next?
Once major issues have been addresses and things have settled down, it may be beneficial to do the following.
Understand the informal organisational structure
Not all power and influence comes from position and job title. Many people have influence outside of position or may have the ears of people in high positions. There may be cliques and groups, and others who seem dead set to put one against another. By understanding these linkages, you will be in a better position to head-off potential problems.
Keep your ears to the ground
Listen out for grumblings among employees and staff, and be ready to address any rumour circulating before they become uncontrollable. In the absence of open dialogue, presumptions run wild. Keep friendships with people who are always in tune to the grape vine; this is usually the receptionist, but could also be admin staff.
Build relationships at all levels
By building relationships at all levels of the business, you can have greater resources at your disposal to address issues that come along. You can also learn from others how best to approach certain issues so you can benefit from that knowledge and handle the politics more effectively.
Learn to recognise and treat all peers and employees fairly.
You may never be able to eliminate office politics from the work environment, but you can work to minimise the negative effects. And if you can minimise office politics within the IT department, you have one less thing affecting your data to worry about.
Do you have a story to share about how you handled your internal politics? Or how do you feel about the advice that I’ve given? Please leave your comments below.
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