Do the words brown-noser, back-stabber and office politics come to mind when you hear the phrase “playing the game”” Do you think that it means that you have to act fake or be nasty to your co-workers or fellow students to get ahead” Over the past five years of my teaching career, I’ve uttered the words “Students need to learn how to play the game!” to my colleagues so many times that one day last semester I decided that, perhaps, I should actually have a discussion with my students about “Playing The Game.”
The discussion that ensued was very enlightening for me. Students brought up the idea that playing the game was “sneaky and dishonest” and that only “unethical people play the game at work.” Honestly, I was a bit taken aback by many of the negative comments, as I’ve always thought of playing the game as something positive and have never understood others around me who seemed to resist “the game” every step of the way. As interior design students take positions as interns or get that first job as a junior designer, I see a great deal of merit in playing the game – the right, and ethical way, of course.
So, here’s my take on what playing the game of office politics should be about from the point of view of the emerging design professional: building alliances and paying your dues.
Hello, My Name Is…
When you take that first job or internship, it’s most likely that you won’t know anyone in the office. But here’s where your keen observational skills come in! Watch, listen and learn about the others around you.
See who the “influencers” are in the company and, if you feel comfortable with their professionalism and ethics, get to know them! Find out what interests them and strike up a conversation. Getting to know what sports teams they like or what kinds of hobbies they enjoy is an appropriate way to break the ice and find some common ground.
These types of exchanges will also give them an opportunity to get to know you. Having someone on your side that you respect and is highly regarded at the firm is an invaluable asset. Taking the time to build relationships with co-workers is likely to reap numerous professional benefits from the investment.
As you build relationships with co-workers, however, be very careful to avoid getting pulled into office squabbles or gossip. Also, be sure only to disclose things to your co-workers that you would feel comfortable if the entire office knew. Translation: keep your personal problems – and perhaps what you did over the weekend – to yourself.
Think twice before adding co-workers as Facebook friends as well. Even if you keep your account squeaky-clean, your co-workers may use Facebook as another venue for complaints or office gossip that you don’t need to be dragged into.
Will Work For Good Feedback
As an intern or entry-level designer, you may be asked to do anything from making copies and organizing the resource library to making seemingly endless plan revisions in CAD. Playing the game means taking on all of these responsibilities with a smile and enthusiasm!
If you take on these tasks with eagerness, even if you may not be thrilled about them, then you are playing the game the right way. Paying your dues for a bit with a smile on your face will only help you in the end. Many of the most successful designers out there started at the very bottom, but with the right attitude, they stood out above the rest.
Don’t argue with instructions that are given to you about how to do something. Now, there is a significant difference between clarifying and disputing. Asking why a task is done a certain way may be important in order for you to do a good job, but, delivered with the wrong tone, you may come across as being disrespectful.
Attitude is very important. If nothing else, be pleasant to be around! You are much more likely to get the bigger project that you’ve had your eye on if you agreeably plod through the small tasks. However, be as genuine as possible with your enthusiasm to avoid being labeled as “fake.”
Playing the game also means knowing when to promote yourself and how to take criticism. Self-promotion does not mean you have to be a braggart. If you are recognized for your contribution to the team, accept it graciously. If you took a bit of initiative and went the extra mile on something, be sure to bring it up when you have a performance review with your manager. Of course, be sure only to take credit for the work you truly did and correct anyone immediately that is misinformed regarding the scope of your role. They will respect you more for it.
On the flip side, don’t get defensive when you are corrected or critiqued on your performance. Listen to the feedback and ask, “How could I have done that better”” and learn from the experience of your more seasoned peers. If you can take criticism with poise and improve for next time, then others will be more likely to give you honest feedback about your work, which will only help you improve even more.
Above all else, playing the game ethically means that you can go to sleep at night knowing you that you worked hard AND tried to get ahead, but didn’t walk all over anyone else in the process. We’ve all experienced that person who seems to get great opportunities handed to them time and again – why shouldn’t that be you” You have to be in it to win it, so get out there and play!