Despite what you may have naively believed, drama doesn't cease the moment you leave school and enter the working world. In fact, it balloons to a greater scale, and metamorphoses into what is known as office politics.
The power struggle in the workplace is real, unlike back in high school, and can be even more ruthless and more unforgiving than what you'd imagined. In the real world, the act of balancing power requires great skill at interacting with people and handling your relationships with them. We often call this skill of survival: EQ.
Competition is fierce because people's livelihoods are on the line. They don't call it "a dog-eat-dog world" for nothing. And soon you will realize that the matter of whether you rise or fall amidst all the power plays affects not just your position at work and/or your paycheck, but also the potential relationships and connections, and your overall reputation, all of which could make or break your prospects for the future. One misstep can cost you many things.
Forget everything you learned from high school. Here are 11 rules for you to follow to be successful and triumphant in this real world version of "Mean Girls":
1. Allow yourself to be useful and to be used
Be useful. Be usable. And be used. Not just by your boss, but by your colleagues as well (especially if you're new at the job). The truth is, no employee is absolutely safe in his or her position at work -- everyone is at risk of being replaced, taken over or kicked off the team. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you make yourself indispensable.
Learn to be of good use to other people on top of being consistent with your own work. Let other people depend and rely on you. It can be as simple as buying an extra cup of coffee every morning for your boss, or helping a busy colleague print things whenever you are heading to the printing machine for some of your own stuff. Over time, you will gain their favor and trust.
Allow yourself to be manipulated by other people, so as to let yourself be of extra value. Only when you've secured your position in others' scheme of work/routine can you then turn your attention to making use of other people as well.
Of course, choose to be used by the right people. Every bit of your time and energy forked out is a precious investment that mustn't go to waste -- it needs to be worth it in the larger scheme of things. And also, you need to make a point that there is a limit to the amount of sh*t you are willing to receive. Don’t be pushover. Don’t be a floor rag and let people step all over you. Let people know when they start to get a little overboard.
2. Be of a good presence
Let the good side of your personality shine. Let it be infectious. Make your presence mean something to the people at your workplace. Make them smile, crack jokes whenever it's fitting, and let them know that you care about them. Be happy, be approachable and be kind.
For those who aren’t morning people, work on your smile while on your way to work. When you start smiling, you will start to feel much better. Upbeat music can also help to increase your energy level in the morning.
You don’t necessarily have to make yourself a “people-person.” If you naturally are, then good for you. If you are not, then the least you can do is to carry a positive aura around you. When people feel good being around you, they will be more open towards you. This would definitely make asking for help or favors from them easier next time.
3. Your Boss' opinion is all that matters
When you get into some serious drama or some big argument with a colleague, it doesn't really matter who's more right or who's truly at fault. At the end of the day, it all boils down to whom your boss trusts more. It doesn't matter whose side of the story sounds more convincing. What matters more is whose side your boss prefers to take, or who he/she chooses to "protect." So instead of wasting time and energy screaming at your colleague's face, or expending your energy on being upset, you should focus on dispelling any bit of distrust your boss may have of you.
Your boss' trust in you is more important than anything in your workplace. Let him/her know of your aspirations for the company and for yourself. Slowly make your way up the ladder of trust with good work performance and behavior, so that one day you'll be one of your boss' most trusted workers, and a top pick when a new opportunity or a promotion is up for grabs.
4. Never outwardly express hostility towards your office rival
We all have that "someone" at our workplace we call our "nemesis," the one who seems to have made it his/her personal goal to make our time at work a living hell. This person's passive-aggressiveness is especially distinct, and he/she would occasionally try to offend or pick on us just to elicit some kind of a reaction. Some people love drama. Some just live to create it.
First tip to dealing with this sort of character at your workplace is never to wear your emotions on your sleeves in front of him/her. Hide all your displeasures and your jealousy behind a smile. Also, don't react to taunts. Remember, you will only be stooping down to that level if you do. When you allow these types of people to affect you, you're the one who's losing, and they are the ones who are winning.
5. Never be too quick to act
a) When you are desperate, insecure or angry, nine out of 10 times you will do something that you'll later regret. Whether is it responding to an email that offended you, or complaining to your boss about something a colleague did. Don't act solely based on your heightened emotions. You don't want to come across as a reactive, emotional wreck. Always give it some time, perhaps a day or two. Use this time to formulate a better strategy.
b) When you are faced with problems with your task at hand, do not immediately go into panic mode. Keep your composure. The number one rule in crisis management is to stay calm. Try to regain control of the situation. Do what you can. Also, be aware of snitches out there who are ready to steal your project, your position at work or your place in the boss’s heart.
c) In the case where the risks are high, you don’t know which side to choose and neutrality in opinion is non-beneficial -- act dumb. This is the best way to avoid making the wrong decision, and also to buy yourself some time.
6. Be a people reader
Try to understand your boss, your colleagues and your office rival well. So that in times of crisis, you will be able to predict their moves. The foresight will better prepare you for the changes to come and help you formulate better action plans and counter strategies. Be sensitive. Observe people's routines and habits. Learn to read their mood and body language. Get to know about their backgrounds through small chats. This is not spying -- it's trying to acquaint yourself with your surroundings, knowing which people are your threats and whom you can trust.
7. Be humble, always
a) Don't flaunt your past achievements. Don't be boastful, even if you're doing it jokingly; people might just take it the wrong way. The last thing you want is to come across as arrogant and complacent.
b) Never try to outshine your immediate boss in front of the bigger bosses. It will only appear as a disregard for office hierarchy, making you seem disrespectful and lacking in class. Even if you have indeed achieved something great on your own, you should still try to attribute a part of your success to your boss. The display of humility and gratitude will win you more hearts than you trying to claim all the credit for your own glory.
8. Loyalty is prized most of all
In the workplace, loyalty is the most valuable thing you can have. Not the number of subordinates working for you, nor how big your working desk is. You need to find yourself loyal and trustworthy friends at work who would help you when you get into sh*t.
To gain loyalty, you need to give people your loyalty first. Choose the right people to be allies with and focus on them. Render them help whenever needed. In turn, they will help you the next time you're in trouble. If they don't, then you know who's a true friend and who's not.
9. Have good sources of intel
It's no secret that every workplace and every office has its own daily gossips and dirty laundry, and of course, its own pool of intel sources. Confidential information gets leaked out from the higher authorities' offices and from people's mouths all the time. And it can spread like wild fire. People gossip to make their mundane work routine more exciting. People need intel to prep themselves for new work opportunities and promotion. And, well, there will always be stupid people doing stupid things, which will get them into big trouble.
Be one of the first few to know the scoop. But first you need to find out who are the potential intel sources at your workplace. Your best bet would be the boss' PA, because he/she is half an insider, or perhaps a full one. The second best bet would be those in the office who are close to the PA. But it could also be the janitor who cleans the break room. Oh yes, the break room -- the place where people's mouths come loose and gossip gets spilled over cookies and tea.
Perhaps the best way for you to be initiated into the loop is to offer your own set of secrets, or something that you've observed that nobody else seems to have taken notice of yet. Also, be helpful to people. Accumulate favors, and do not casually accept gifts in return for those favors owed to you. Not a meal, not a new watch nor a pair of movie tickets. It is best to trade a favor for a favor, or a piece of "advice" from those people who know things.
10. Don’t be a simpleton
Don't be gullible. Be discerning. Always check with other sources to verify the information. Keep yourself informed of the progress of things. Ignorance is bliss only up until a certain point. Sometimes ignorance will cost you more than the burden of the knowledge you come to possess.
Also, don’t let yourself be so easily “read” by others. Here's the trick: Be a competitor while not appearing as one. Don't put all your cards out the table. It's better not to be seen as a competition or a threat. It's not about being fake -- it's about being strategic. Be smart about concealing your ideas and feelings. Put up a smokescreen if you have to.
11. Know when to keep your mouth shut
a) When you have nothing good to say, don't say it. You don't want to risk making a fool out of yourself, or worse, offending somebody unintentionally.
b) Some "secrets" are meant to be disseminated in the black market of intel. Yet for some, it's best that they stay out of the public consciousness, unknown to everyone else except for you and those involved. Remember: Knowledge is power -- it can sink a ship or keep it afloat.
c) For some information, timing is most crucial.
d) At times, questions become redundant. Even if you pursue the subject long and hard, you might not get any good answer. At such instances, observation would be more effective.
In life, you never stop learning. The moment you leave the life of a student in school, you become a student of life. You will learn things that teachers in school never taught you. IQ and EQ are both essential for survival, but EQ becomes the more important factor if you are aspiring to be successful.
So be smart, and stay sharp, so you can be at the top of the game.
Photo credit: USA Networks