June 6th 2020
I write about modern culture. Got to #12 on Amazon. Visit me: www.LBLewis.com.
“I’m going to do a boss move,” announced my manager, almost like she was going to step out for lunch. “Let’s discuss more in our meeting later.”
“Oh, OK,” I replied looking at her and then politely smiled. I had never heard this phrase before and was confused as to what might be coming next.
I quickly turned back to my laptop to Google “Boss Move.” I scrolled through the search results looking for an obvious definition but nothing was making sense.
My mind then jumped to the conclusion that I must have done something wrong. Now we’d probably have to talk about a performance improvement plan, my anxiety said. To prepare, I raced through my list of what I was working on and my deliverables. Nothing had blown up and I really thought everything was going fine — at least it was by me.
Everything became uncomfortably clear in our meeting. I was assured that I hadn’t done anything wrong. However, my boss would now take over a piece of business I negotiated and visit the client herself, not me. It was a setback since I thought I owned the relationship.
But it was an early-stage startup after all and anything could happen at any time, even office politics.
The Game of Office Politics
Whether you work for a startup or a FAANG, you’ll find office politics. In fact, office politics exist in all organizations. And, while there are many books and LinkedIn courses available on the subject, the vast majority of us have only had on-the-job training. It’s also important to note that even though you may not be physically in the office, working remotely may change but not eliminate your organization’s political landscape.
After the “boss move” experience, it was stressful and challenging to know when the next “boss move” might happen. I felt more insecure with my work and unmotivated. The competition also felt more intense between competing agendas of the stakeholders at the startup.
To understand which level an organization is operating, it may take time, research and close observation. By starting with informational interviews, employer reviews online and the interview process, the level of politics may be apparent. For example, when I was told by a hiring manager that I would not be moving forward in the startup’s interview process, I moved on. However, when the CEO followed up with me a few days later and asked that I write the hiring manager to be put on a project, I knew this was a category of politics I didn’t feel comfortable participating in. I also didn’t think managing up in the interview process would help me look like a team player.
The rules and norms of office politics are constantly changing, just as individual organizations increase or decrease headcount. As long as there is scarcity and people must figure out how to work with each other, office politics will continue to exist to some extent.
Most experts agree avoiding office politics is a strategy that will not result in career advancement. Some advocate developing political skills to manage difficult situations in addition to being strategic about work relationships, especially with the six common types of office personalities. But jumping on the political bandwagon regardless if you are junior or senior level may be challenging.
On the individual level, how to deal effectively with all variances of workplace dynamics depends largely on values and developing soft skills. Shifting the focus away from reactively dealing with the negative effects of office politics to cultivating an awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses can reframe office politics.
Everyone has their own stories about office drama. With increasing resources on workplace behavior, in addition to learning from individual stories, office politics will continue to shift as organizations will need to create better environments to stay competitive. For me, it’s through personal reflection and sharing my work experiences that I’ve gained more insight into my values and which has led to more professional growth opportunities.