Navigating Work Politics: How To Move Your Ideas Forward Effectively

BY: Paige Cerulli

Every workplace has its own social structure. There’s a balance of power among coworkers, also referred to as workplace politics. Learning to navigate work politics is key to your success in your career, and it can help you to move your ideas forward effectively. 

Recognize Common Workplace Politics Challenges Navigating work politics begins with recognizing the challenges that you face. Dr. Diane Rosen, a workplace expert and principal at Compass Consultants, explains that understanding the culture is a challenge in any workplace.

 “Organizations have norms both explicit and tacit, their own ‘currency’ and customs,” she says. “The challenges that arise are in understanding hierarchy and perhaps more importantly, power centers, who does what, how to obtain resources, dress code, preferred methods of communication, expectations around office etiquette, how formal or informal is the culture and how and/or the extent to which people socialize outside of the office.” 

Miriam Groom, an Industrial and Organizational Therapist and HR Strategist, is the owner of Groom & Associates and founder of Mindful Career. Groom notes that women may face additional work politics challenges. “Females in the workplace often face nuanced political challenges due to historically ingrained gender biases,” Groom explains. “They might confront stereotypes questioning their competence in leadership roles, deal with imbalanced power dynamics or experience instances of being overshadowed in meetings.” 

OBSERVE AND ASK Learning about the specific politics in a workplace can help you to better understand and navigate them, so you can also move your ideas forward. Dr. Rosen encourages professionals to carefully observe a workplace, especially when they’re new to the setting. “First, be a detective,” says Dr. Rosen. “Look for clues and cues from coworkers. Be a keen observer of how people interact, who is the ‘go to person,’ and who people seem to be avoiding.” 

It’s also important to ask questions, rather than making assumptions or guessing. “Don’t be afraid to ask a manager or team leader if there is something you don’t know,” she says. 

DEVELOP VALUABLE SOFT SKILLS Certain soft skills are advantageous in navigating work politics and presenting your ideas in a way that they will be well-received. Groom recommends professionals take the time to develop these soft skills: 

Emotional intelligence: Helps you recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions while also being considerate of others’ emotions. 

Active listening: Helps you understand others’ viewpoints and can help to de-escalate potential conflicts. 

Negotiation: Skillful negotiation can steer situations to mutually beneficial outcomes. 

Adaptability: Being flexible and adaptable means you can maneuver through changes without getting caught in political crossfire 

Dr. Rosen highlights the importance of awareness of yourself and of others. Focus on how you are showing up, how others are showing up and how others are responding to you. 

“Be authentic,” encourages Dr. Rosen. “Trying to be or act like someone else will not serve you well. Skip trying to impress and focus on doing your job well, interacting with others in a calm and pleasant way and work on emotional intelligence.”

 BUILD RELATIONSHIPS Try to build relationships with your coworkers. “Strong relationships help in many ways,” says Dr. Rosen. Relationships with coworkers mean you have someone to act as a sounding board, help you talk through issues and give you honest feedback and advice. Those qualities can be invaluable when preparing to present an idea to coworkers or a supervisor. 

FOCUS ON YOUR EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING Navigating work politics can be emotionally draining, and when you’re trying to move ideas forward, you’ll inevitably face some criticism and rejection. Dr. Rosen encourages professionals to find ways to emotionally self-regulate themselves. 

“Avoid catastrophizing, jumping to conclusions or making ungrounded assumptions,” she says. “I like to play the ‘so what’ game: If this happens or doesn’t happen, then so what? What are the likely consequences and with respect to those consequences, so what? What is the likely downside or upside? Engaging in this exercise helps put things into perspective and tame feelings.” 

Navigating work politics takes time and careful observation. Once you have a clear understanding of the dynamics in effect, you’ll be better prepared to strategically present and advance your ideas.
x Paige Cerulli is an award-winning freelance content writer and copywriter. She owns Wild Mare Marketing and helps business owners better connect with their audiences. Paige’s work has appeared in Business Insider, USA Today, Vice and more

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