always liked what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said when
someone asked for his definition of politics. "It's the art of knowing
how to get people to do what you want them to do," he said, "and make
them believe they thought of it themselves." That kind of influence is
what eventually leads to real power, but how many of us know how to
achieve it? For anyone interested in learning, here's a tip: Get hold
of a copy of Secrets to Winning Office Politics: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work
(St. Martin's Press, $13.95). An organizational psychologist and head
of an Atlanta executive coaching firm called Executive Counselors (http://www.YourOfficeCoach.com), author Marie McIntyre, Ph.D., has counseled high-fliers at Home Depot, Prudential, Panasonic, BellSouth,
the Federal Reserve, and elsewhere. McIntyre says that if you're not
able to negotiate certain situations at office, you may find yourself
looking for a new job. Here are some excerpts from our recent
Q. What is the most common political mistake people make in the workplace?
The most widespread problem I see is what happens when someone gets a
new boss. It's the most hazardous point in a career, because then all
bets are off. What you really need to do is make an effort to study his
or her expectations and figure out how these are different from what
your old boss wanted from you. It can be a hard adjustment, but you
rarely have a choice. If the new boss is an idiot, learn how to work
for an idiot. Of course, with someone really toxic, you need to make
some decisions about how long you're going to stay, and start taking
steps to get out.
Q. Is it ever realistic to expect to change a bad boss?
Not really, but there are things you can do to manage the relationship.
I often ask people, "How often do you tell your boss something you
appreciate about him or her?" There's nothing wrong with expressing a
little appreciation now and then, because we certainly expect to get it
from them! And, as a practical matter, if you say something positive
now and then, it makes problems easier to discuss when they arise,
because your boss knows you aren't just focusing on the negative all
the time. I also believe that, if everyone's intentions are positive,
almost any problem can be worked out. But I wrote the book because
about 95% of people in companies do have positive intentions -- they just
don't know how to avoid shooting themselves in the foot.
that why you included the checklist in the book that tells people how
to figure out whether they are unwittingly committing political suicide?
Oh, yes. If you're feeling angry, anxious, or resentful about changes
at work, and letting those feelings show, that is a danger sign.
Another one is thinking only of your own goals, without regard for
anyone else's. And of course, if a manager or human resources person
has told you that you need to make some changes, it's time to think
seriously about how you are coming across to your colleagues, and
whether you're about to self-destruct.
Q. One part of book
that fascinates me is the discussion on various kinds of political
enemies and how to handle them. The type you describe as "vengeful
adversaries" sound like the most treacherous.
A. They can
be, especially since you often don't know what you did "wrong" to make
them want to get back at you. If the person is rational, you can have a
constructive conversation about what's going on between you. But if
not, you need to start working on damage control, as I describe in the
book, and the sooner the better. The first step is to explain to your
boss, without whining and without trashing your adversary in any way,
what the problem is and how you've tried to discuss it with the person
who has been undermining you. That will at least put any further
attacks from this person in a different light.
Q. Your advice in the book on how to approach powerful higher-ups is great. Want to sum it up in a few tips?
Sure. For one thing, you have to talk fast, because senior executives
are busy people with tight schedules, and they tend to be pretty good
at absorbing information quickly without a lot of explanation. Then,
don't be surprised if the directions they give you are only about half
clear. Pressing for specifics will only make them think you aren't too
bright. Your best bet is developing a solid relationship with that
executive's administrative assistant, who has already learned how to
read the boss's mind. If you're going to work well with a very powerful
person, you need to set aside your ego. Senior executives are paid
lavish salaries, given expensive perks, and surrounded by fawning
underlings. So their egos are usually huge, leaving no room for yours.
If you bring your own ego into the relationship, you'll soon find
yourself in a power struggle -- and guess who's likely to lose?
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