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Body Language, Office Politics and Getting Ahead

By: Julie-Ann Amos - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Office Politics Body Language

Office politics exist in practically every business environment, no matter how much an organisation tries to avoid it. The reality is that anytime you have people working with and around each other, there will be personal and professional politics. Period.

Body language is an integral part of office politics, both as a contributor and an inhibitor. In other words, body language can encourage and prolong political issues or it can discourage and end them.

Using Body Language to Prolong Office Politics
Those who actively play the political game at work are also those who most actively use their body language in the process. Some of their actions may be unconscious, but it’s very likely most of them are quite deliberate. Why? Because these people understand and apply their knowledge of body language and non-verbal communication to further their own purposes.

For instance, let’s say a new sales manager comes into the office. The person who actively uses body language for office politics will display behaviours such as:

  • Positioning themselves in opportunities to strike up a conversation
  • Sitting next to the new person in sales meetings
  • Frequently dropping by to share information with the new person
  • Demonstrating higher status behaviours to communicate his or her ‘close’ relationship with the new person
  • Actively listening to and agreeing with the new person
  • Offering tips and information about how the office works and the personalities of the people who work there
  • Standing between the new person and other workers

Another common occurrence is when two co-workers have a conflict or dislike each other in some way. In this situation, one or both of them may display behaviours such as:

  • Avoiding eye contact with each other
  • Ignoring each other in the hallway or other common areas
  • Sitting in a confrontational location or pose during meetings
  • Turning their backs to each other during meetings
  • Trying to sit closest to the boss or group leader
You can see in all of these examples how body language and non-verbal behaviours can be powerful tools (or weapons, depending on your point of view) in office politics.

Using Body Language to Discourage Office Politics
Those who strive to discourage or diffuse office politics may also use body language actively and deliberately. Why? Because body language is an excellent way to communicate disapproval and displeasure. It can send a message to another person without having to say anything directly or creating an uncomfortable confrontation.

For instance, let’s go back to that new sales manager in the office. Your co-worker is actively engaged in office politics, trying to gain favour with the new manager. You disapprove of such behaviour and want to be clear about that disapproval. You might display behaviours such as:

  • Walking away from discussions where the other person is talking about his or her ‘great’ relationship with the new boss
  • Directing comments and conversation directly to the new sales manager rather than including the other person
  • Maintaining high levels of professional conduct in all office interactions
  • Focusing on work performance rather than office politics
  • Treating the new sales manager with respect while maintaining your own self-confidence and personal space
  • Avoiding interactions with the new sales manager while the other person is also present
Sometimes politics and people become so intense that you can’t help but speak up. In this kind of situation, it is best to speak directly, stick to the facts, and then resume your own normal activities outside of the realm of politics.

Do You Have Other Options?
Where office politics are concerned, you have two basic choices. You can continue being part of the organisation, choosing to either prolong or discourage such issues. Or, you can choose to leave the organisation and go elsewhere.

Nobody can tell you which choice is best for you, and many times, it takes a while before the right choice becomes clear to you. Regardless of your current situation or your feelings about any politics going on, stay aware of body language and the power of non-verbal communications. Your knowledge and understanding of this area will serve you well as you consider whatever actions you might take.

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