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Surviving office politics: observe and listen

The most important tools for negotiating workplace politics are your own skills of observation. “Watch who gets promoted, ignored, patted on the back." “Who holds the power? Who do people listen to and not listen to?” Understanding who is influential and how they do it can teach you what works, what’s inappropriate, what’s rewarded, and what’s punished.
You’re watching for style, Thacker says, which on a broader level can translate to company culture. If the blunt people get promoted or rewarded and you’re timid, work on being more direct. Obviously, you can vary your style only so much, but with a critical eye and ear, you’ll learn what to work on and what to avoid. For example, if you notice that the CEO seems irritated with long presentations but you have a complex issue to present, mention that your update may raise questions and give her the chance to decide whether it’s worth discussing at length. Likewise, if you notice that an influential colleague is shy and prefers to communicate via email, don’t barge into his office when you need help — send a polite message instead.
Danger! Danger! Danger!
Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
In the course of learning more about the people and dynamics in your workplace, you may end up hearing things you wish you hadn’t. Here are three situations to watch out for, and what to do in each one.
• Situation: A coworker starts venting about other people in the office.
• Danger: You get sucked in and contribute to the trash talk, which may be passed along or overheard.
• Your Response: Say as little as possible and frame your responses around the coworker’s needs, not the people he’s talking about. For example: “I can see why you’re frustrated” or “If you feel like Mike is stepping on your toes, maybe you should talk to him about it.”
• Situation: A colleague tells you something you feel you should not know about, like an affair between coworkers or a rumor that someone may get fired.
• Danger: Irrelevant or false information could prejudice your attitude toward coworkers and compromise your working relationships.
• Your Response: Pretend you’ve got something crucial to attend to, politely excuse yourself from the conversation, and walk away.
• Situation: You hear news you need to act on, such as a claim that one coworker is harassing another.
• Danger: “It can adversely impact you and the organization if you’re perceived as someone who didn’t do anything about [harassment],” DePhillips says. “It looks like the company condones the behavior.” If you’re a manager or supervisor, you may also have a fiduciary responsibility to report harassment allegations.
• Your Response: Pass it up through proper channels immediately. Tell the person who reported the harassment that she needs to tell human resources — or you will. If your company doesn’t have a dedicated HR function, report it to your supervisor, says DePhillips, and if you run the show, talk to your attorney.

Reference: Kelly Pate Dwyer
Courtesy of The Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica
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