Career Woman

How to escape workplace drama and keep your reputation intact


Many years ago, I worked with a person who said to me: Michelle, you can get to a certain level in your career by being good at what you do.  But if you want to go any further, you need to know how to play the game.

Their comment always troubled me as it implies you need to play politics and be Machiavellian to be successful in a corporate world. In an inter-connected world where your reputation precedes you taking that approach can have long-term, negative consequences. If you want to progress with your reputation intact and even elevated, it’s imperative to focus your efforts on effective and sustainable impact.

Live your core values, consistently

This approach starts with knowing who you are and what you stand for.  A person’s values influence the decisions they make, how they interact with people and ultimately, the type of leader they will be. Issues arise when there’s a disconnect between a person’s stated values and their actions; that is, a difference between their espoused values and their values in use.  To have a healthy and robust reputation consistency is vital.

Ask yourself: How are you showing up every day?  Are you acting with integrity? And lastly, is your behaviour congruent with your espoused values?  When it’s inconsistent, you will send mixed messages to team members and colleagues – making it harder for people to trust what you say.

Avoid gossip

Gossiping is part of our evolutionary psychology and is not the exclusive domain of one gender. Dr Robin Dunbar, the author of Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, advises that it’s a form of social behaviour that helps large groups bond. We feel connected with someone when we gossip, just as we like being part of the in-group when someone shares a secret with us.

At work, people sit back and gossip, size people up, sometimes revel in the misfortune of those they don’t like, spread rumours and innuendo and play politics. All of these behaviours are unhealthy and do nothing to enhance a person’s reputation. Instead, when these conversations arise challenge yourself to not engage.  Instead, stand up for your values and remember always to treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Seek to understand

We all have people in our personal and professional life who we find challenging.  You may label them as ‘precious’, ‘difficult’ or ‘hard work’.  The typical approach to managing such people is to avoid them or find a way to work around them. It’s time to do the opposite, and seek to spend more time with them.  When you spend more time with a person, you have the opportunity to understand better their perspectives and what motivates and drives their behaviour.

We all interpret the world and what is happening through the lens of our own experience.  Consequently, it’s easy to misinterpret a person’s intent or think we know what a person is thinking or why they are behaving in a certain way. By seeking to understand a person, you suspend judgement and drop the labels by being curious, open-minded and interested in them. All of which puts you in a far better position to cultivate a healthy relationship, and elevate your reputation.

Listen first, talk later

People want to feel they, and their needs, have been heard.  When they don’t, they’ll either withdraw from the conversation or find ways to destabilise it. In contrast, when a person feels heard they feel valued. By you showing you are interested in what they have to say, you are demonstrating that they matter. Taking this approach starts with you being curious as to what is said and not said.  You ask questions and seek to clarify what you’ve heard before sharing your ideas or providing a solution.  You are actively acknowledging how they feel and taking the time to recognise what they need.

Organisations are by their very nature political constructs. So while you need to be aware of politics and how it operates in your workplace, you don’t need to play politics to be successful. It’s your choice.

About Michelle Gibbings

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, who works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’.

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