Shhh…Just Smile & Nod

Surviving office politics; A cheeky perspective to be taken lightly with a grain of salt or maybe a lump of sugar 😉

 I really think office politics 101 should be a mandatory high school course, as high school politics end upon graduation but office politics go on until retirement, which could be 50+ years, unless you work for yourself and the only person you answer to is yourself. Being in the workforce means learning how to paddle your canoe upstream with sharks on the left, piranhas on the right, and choppy tide waters of uncertainty, secrecy, silos, hearsay, and subjecting oneself to becoming target practice for random, unforeseen strikes of lightning that could sink your canoe, when not prepared to just smile and nod.

So, how do you avoid the lightning and stay above water? It really depends on the situation but in general, opting out of befriending people at work and keeping your thoughts, opinions, questions, insights, fears, and objections to yourself appears to be what the upper echelons of organization prefer. You get hired for your capacity to do the job, not your ability to win friends and influence people and not your ideas or insights, because in the bigger picture, you need to do what your told, not offer your insights without permission, regardless of how passionate, experienced, or knowledgeable you may be. Although you may from time-to-time be asked to give your insights or ideas, don’t go overboard. Share only what is asked of you, and only when asked of you, and nothing more, or you may risk being branded as a know-it-all or trouble maker, when all you were doing was trying to help.   

Basically, it’s all about not rocking the boat because once you do, others may perceive you as a threat, which will not bode well for you when trying to manage your work-life. If you ask a question, others may see you as challenging their authority or knowledge, or somehow perceive you as vying for power or control, so, make sure you attach a lollipop. If you voice a concern, others may feel you’re being a bully, condescending, or aggressive, so, a rainbow and unicorn is highly suggested. If you have an objection, just keep it to yourself because no amount of sugar-coating will ever be enough for someone else to accept your point of view. It is usually better to just smile and nod, without making waves because the minute you offer a suggestion, insight, or solution to a potential problem, or find yourself in a position that requires you to defend yourself or your point of view, is the minute you become someone else’s target. Being a target means you are constantly scrutinized for your every move, your tone of voice or facial expressions, which in your opinion, have never been any different, or even subjecting yourself to being randomly accused of things that simply didn’t happen because someone either doesn’t like you or wants to sabotage you and make your work-life difficult, in what you are now perceiving as their effort to either make you quit or get you fired.

Some of these so-called office politics are directly related to various personality styles within the organization. The expression “You can’t please everyone” comes to mind because no matter what communication style you use, the fact is, unless you majored in likeability, you will at some point piss someone off, hurt their feelings, offend them, or irritate them because your personality also plays a role in how you communicate with others. Deciphering how to successfully interact with your colleagues without upsetting or provoking them is no easy task, and can often be like rowing your canoe without paddles, especially when faced with new team members, or changes within the organization. In these instances, it’s as if suddenly changing your personality and communication style to suit the current tide becomes necessary, in order to adapt to everything new. New bonds need to be formed, new trust needs to be built, new expectations need to be adhered to, and sometimes when the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, communication becomes even more rigid, difficult, and in some cases, non-existent.  

So, grab your paddles because you’re either on-board and ready to row or you will find yourself quickly sinking. Change can be scary and overwhelming but sometimes it’s what’s necessary to progress, grow and meet the demands of the work environment. Meeting those new demands is a learning curve for everyone and means adapting to everything new at a high rate of speed by being flexible and open to new challenges and expectations; providing a healthy dose of sugar-coating to any questions or concerns you may have; patiently waiting for instruction and clarity from the higher-ups without asking anyone else to share their thoughts; keeping your thoughts, fears and objections to yourself; referring colleagues with concerns or questions back to their managers for answers, rather than offering support, guidance or help; and no matter how passionate you are about the work you do, experience or knowledge you may have, avoid the temptation to show the side of your personality that portrays you as having feeling or emotion about anything.

In short, keep your conversations brief and monotone and your facial expressions expressionless. And remember, just smile and nod, whether you agree or disagree, as staying neutral and objective with no connection to your personality is safe and may help you navigate the choppy tide waters without sinking your canoe.  

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