7 Ways to Deal With Office Politics
Like Cady Heron’s Mean Girls high school jungle, version 2.0.
The boss who just won’t promote you despite three dedicated years as her EA. The coworker who, for some unbeknownst reason just CAN’T spell your name right in everything single email (with other colleagues on CC) and won’t look you in the eye nor give you anything more than monosyllabic responses. The amoebas, what-do-I-do-again startup job. Oh, and that goddam glass ceiling. We know it exists, Patricia Arquette knows it exists, Meryl Streep and J.Lo definitely know it exists. And guys, we’ve been there.
That said, when it comes to office politics and dealing with them like the adults we supposedly are, things haven’t always gone so smoothly—whether that’s in an all-female fashion office, an all-male engineering team, or a co-ed agency. We mean, there’s literally no perfect workplace and in our experience, sometimes the only thing to do is to just take a deep breath. But when we got to chatting with Lydia Loizides, the founder and CEO of Talentedly, which plugs itself as a kind of career-oriented personal training service (genius, we know), we realized that there’s actually a lot more we can do to deal with the Mean Girl world that, let’s just admit it, can sometimes be the office. Our takeaway? 1) Be proactive and 2) be an adult. It sounds so easy, right?
The Glass Ceiling
“The patriarchal glass ceilings exists. There’s absolutely no denying it. The question is, how are you going to be proactive about dealing with it—not when it becomes a problem, but actually conducting yourself and thinking about how you’re going to manage your career against it. The first assumption a lot of young women make is, ‘If I work really really hard, I will be rewarded.’ That is true to a certain degree, but it can’t be at the expense of building really solid relationships at your peer level, at the level above you, and at the level below you. If you work 10 hours a day, an hour of your day should be committed to just being out there, talking to your peers, getting in front of people and building your network and brand, not just working hard. That’s one of the ways that you can change things. Because when it comes time for the promotion to happen, unfortunately it’s human nature to remember the last person who was in front of you, or the one who is always present. So while you may be doing all the work behind the scenes, you need to be in front of the scenes as well. That is critically important.”
“This varies depending on your environment. In finance, people wear certain things, same with in technology, startups—there are uniforms. Personally, I always advise people to dress—and it’s a very old, archaic saying—dress for the job you want, not that job you have. Have that air of professionalism. The research has been done: people will judge you in less than two seconds upon meeting you on how intelligent you are and how capable you are simply based on the way you're dressed, and, for women, on the amount and style of makeup that you're wearing. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it’s science, so what are you going to do? How do you use that to your advantage? Take what we know: dress in a way that people will respond to, even if they don’t know you—use that to make it seem like you are obviously as intelligent and capable and wonderful as you really are.”
“When you go into a startup you should always ask the question: Am I doing this because I’m in love with the idea of a startup or can I really thrive in the environment of a startup? When I’m hiring people, I generally use the expression, 'Startup is not a fashion statement, it’s a lifestyle.' You really need to be comfortable with that because it does take a huge amount of confidence and a huge amount of focus. Confidence because you can’t allow yourself to be influenced by the chaos that is around you; and focus to be able to say, 'Okay, here’s the chaos we have ahead of us, this is what we need to achieve.' You’re never going to escape that, but you can use tools. For example, we have very short, very succinct meetings: a 15-minute meeting every morning that's basically how can we help, where are you lost, do you need anything today. We are problem solving. The other thing we do is we start each week with goals for the week—not for six months; what are we trying to accomplish for Friday? We document, we send notes, we send bullet points after meetings in an email that say we agreed to do this, so-and-so has this task. Very short, crisp, but constant communication. And it helps—people know what’s going on and they feel they have the information to really be productive.”
Dealing with Colleagues
“A lot of it comes back to confidence and preparation. For example, if someone is blocking you or throwing you under the bus there has likely been behavior that you'd have noticed prior to that event. In a professional situation, no matter what happens, you have to be able to sit down with someone and say, 'Hey, I'm noticing this, this is how I'm interpreting these actions. Let's talk about that. How can we work together?’ In situations where you are having communication issues, I think sometimes people forget that personal lives often [can come into the workplace]. Maybe they are having some personal issues and it’s being displayed as negativity. Take them aside and say, 'Hey, I noticed you’re a little anxious. Is anything going on, do you need anything?' Thinking about the other person’s perspective will often give you control of the situation.
If that person says, 'No, everything is fine, what are you talking about?' and the behaviour continues, then you need to make the decision of who you are going to talk to you, how are going to help. It's unfortunate, but most people don’t trust HR. If you don’t feel you can go to them for help, find someone else, either at your peer level or your manager or supervisor and go and talk to them, not from a complaint standpoint, but from a concerned perspective. 'I'm concerned because I feel like this person is struggling. I tried to talk to them, but I feel like they may need something.' Make it about helping that person and people will be far more open to having difficult discussions.”
(Without Saying No)
“[When someone who's not your boss asks your to do something] there are several ways to handle it. If it’s an odd occurrence—they ask you every 3-4 months—help them out. If it's consistent and they are coming to you everyday and asking you to do things that are not in your job description, there are two ways to deal with it. You can say yes two or three times and then you can say no. There’s a polite way you can say no: 'Today I have a lot of things I need to get done. I’m helping so-and-so with this. I’m more than happy to help you, but I probably won't be able to get to this until tomorrow or the next day.’ If that doesn’t work, than what you say is, ‘Okay great, let me write that down. I’m going to need to check with [insert boss's name here] because we have a lot going on right now, so I may need to take something off my plate to help you. Let me just get approval to do that.’ You’re not really saying no, but what you’re really saying is no. What you are doing now is saying yes, I will accept your request, but I haven’t said yes to fulfilling your request. This is saying no without saying no outright.”
Get What You Want From Your Boss
“Maybe they're not giving you the opportunities that you want or they're not really helping you or advancing you... I always go back to: planners win and winners plan, let's plan together. Sit down with you manager or supervisor and say I’d love to get 30 minutes on your calendar. I have some things I want to talk to you about. I want to really try to stretch to help you or the team in other ways. Get in front of them. ‘I’m really interested in doing this because I think it’s going to build my skill set, and I’m willing to put the work in and I’m hoping you’ll support me in that.’ If you feel rejected and feel like you’re not being supported, then go talk to HR. That’s HR’s job. They should be your advocate.”
Be an Adult
“A lot of millennials that are entering creative environments can be in female dominate or male dominated environments. Take a step back and remember two things. Number one: you have to do the work no matter what. Everyone has to put in their time. Everyone was a beginner once and that’s okay. The second thing is respect. If you respect the environment for both the good and the bad, than you are going to actually be able to do the most important things: you are in charge and you control your reaction. No one else controls your emotions, no one else controls how you react to the situation. You will never change people, you will likely never change a culture, but you can bring confidence and stay true to your values and remain balanced if you teach yourself not to react to it. That’s where little things like mediation and writing in a work journal [come in]. You can write it down and focus on being calm and focused and remind yourself that you control you. Don’t fight, don’t do it. You will find you that people will actually respond to you differently. Because in some cases, they are looking to get a rise out of you. But if you don’t react that way, than sometimes they will leave you alone and respect you for that.”