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How to Navigate Office Politics When You’re Not Full-Time

  • By Adela Belin
  • November 25, 2020

If you think that your status as a remote or part-time employee will exempt you from office politics, Karlyn Borysenko is here to tell you that’s likely not the case.
In her SXSW session, “Playing Politics: Psychology of the Human Workplace,” Borysenko summarized the lessons she’s learned as an organizational psychologist and workplace consultant to help us understand why our coworkers behave as they do. She also provided some tips on how to navigate tough personalities and situations.
This sort of knowledge can be be especially helpful for temporary workers or remote workers because they’re often left to operate without the same context of their surroundings that those in the office more consistently have.

Recognize the rift between rational thinking and emotional thinking.

“People make decisions rationally, but evaluate those decisions emotionally,” says Borysenko. In other words, we think differently when we’re making decisions and when we’re evaluating the results of those decisions. We’re far less rational as humans, as workers, and as colleagues than we believe ourselves to be. Remember this the next time you find yourself bristling at a decision someone else made, find yourself passionately defending one you might have made, or sense that conflict may be on the way.

Bridge this gap by spending time trying to get to know the people you’ll be working with—not just their roles, but who they are as people and how that affects their work. Temporary workers: This will endear you to coworkers who might otherwise expect you to be detached. Remote workers: This will create a sense of camaraderie that may otherwise be missing when you see these folks infrequently.

Seek first to understand.

Building on the relationships you’re seeking to create with coworkers, try to get an understanding of what might inform their work style and approaches to decision making. Borysenko swears by the DISC Profile test. Learning how others work helps provide further insight into why someone’s emails may seem to have a tone, or why someone else seems to need recognition for their work. We draw quick conclusions for why we think these behaviors may take place, but that doesn’t make us right. Taking the time to learn the true reasons behind these actions can change the way we collaborate with the people around us.
If your organization doesn’t subscribe to the “personality profile” model of getting this information, it may be incumbent upon you as a nontraditional staff member to set time to chat further with people. Show them you want to learn more about them. Give yourself enough information to confound some of those quick assumptions you might have made without that knowledge.

Treat people the way they want to be treated.

Now, here’s the most essential part: Armed with that information, use it. We’ve often been fed the adage, “treat people as you would like to be treated.” But not everyone wants what you want, works as you work, is motivated as you’re motivated. Honor what people need when you work with them, and watch them flourish.

Think about it: Remote workers have an element of flexibility to their roles that means some traditions of work may not apply. You’d want people to honor your needs in your adapted role; what does that same courtesy look like when extended to your coworkers in the office? Similarly, some standards for the office apply differently to temporary workers than they do to full-time staff. Each side should honor the needs and sensible expectations for the other.
Want to avoid politics at work? Treat people how THEY want to be treated. Click To Tweet

Sometimes, people just need to get fired.

Without question, this line got more applause than any other in the hourlong presentation. We all do what we can to exist harmoniously in our work environments, achieve the objectives set forth, and fight for the needs of our target audience. But there are times when navigating politics and getting to know people can only go so far. Some situations get to a point where they’re simply too far gone. Learning to navigate office politics should by no means be seen as an excuse for staying in a toxic, abusive, or otherwise untenable office environment.

If you’ve tried to make things work with a coworker and nothing can be done to better the situation, let someone know. Don’t let your “atypical” work arrangement keep you from using your voice. Similarly, if you’re finding that your time at an organization is being diminished for these difficulties, get yourself out and search for a more fulfilling and rewarding arrangement. Life is too short and you shouldn’t be miserable where you work.

As Borysenko said in the opening of her session, office politics don’t always have to be bad. They can be a helpful, engaging way to participate in your workplace in a meaningful way. And despite tradition, this can be true no matter how you participate in the workplace—in-house freelancers, remote, or temp.

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