Over the years, a number of clients have expressed cynicism over workplace politics. They complain about having to “play the game”, feeling frustrated with not being recognized for the work they do, or for being passed over or terminated in favour of the boss’s favourite. Sound familiar?

As a Chinese woman, I was raised in a culture that values hard work, modesty and group conformity. I work in a culture that values being creative, articulate, self-managing and self-promoting.

While playing politics sounds unsavoury to many of us, particularly those of us who are foreign-trained professionals, BEING in communication and sharing our success stories with others is important.

To survive and thrive in corporate Canada and the United States, try following these five strategies:

Strategy 1 – Don’t take things personally.

If your colleague or boss doesn’t smile at you or say hello when you pass them in the hallway, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you. It just means they did not smile at you or say hello when you pass them in the hallway. Consider that they may have been distracted – focused on an upcoming meeting or project completely unrelated to you. Studies have shown that strong emotions can cloud judgement and distract from the present.

If however, you are consistently being ignored, keep reading…

Strategy 2 – Speak up!

It is easy to be overlooked if you don’t speak up at work. Be the first to say hello when you meet your colleague or boss. Speak in a clear, strong voice so you are noticed and your presence recognized. As Asians, we are taught not to draw attention to ourselves and to blend with the group. Walking around with your head down and speaking in a self-effacing manner can have disastrous results in the workplace. While this is great for familial harmony, it is a career disaster!

So proudly share your accomplishments – hold your head up, take full ownership for your results and speak about them in a clear, strong voice at work and to your networks.

Strategy 3 – Be a team player.

When a teammate gets a project or opportunity you think you should have received, give up resentment and be the first to congratulate her. Rather than quietly simmering about the unfairness of the assignment or gossiping behind her back, look to see what you could have done differently. For instance,

  • Did you share the projects you worked on that were pertinent to this assignment?
  • Did you share your professional goals with your management?
  • Did you engage stakeholders to support you in your career plan?
  • If you were blindsided by this opportunity, review your networks for potential gaps in your professional relationships and take steps to address those gaps.

Continue to demonstrate your value to the team by offering your assistance on the project. Keep in touch with your network and continue sharing your goals and accomplishments.

Strategy 4 – Participate in workplace social activities.

I used to work with a colleague who routinely declined all work invitations. He did not see the need to join us for lunch or join in any of the scheduled social activities. When there was a departmental downsizing activity, he was one of the individuals affected.

Social activities at work are an opportunity for team building and for getting to know your colleagues without the pressure of deadlines. It is an opportunity to strengthen social bonds and to get to know each other as individuals. It also provides an opportunity for us to clear the air of perceived slights (Strategy 1) and share priorities (Strategy 2).

In the case of my colleague, would participate in some of the social activities have saved his job? Maybe not, but what I do know is that people who refuse opportunities to form strong relationships are more vulnerable in the workplace.

Strategy 5 – Find a trusted advisor

Find someone at work with whom you can share your uncertainties and validate your perceptions.

A few years after I began working, I was fortunate to have Bruce as my coach and mentor. As a senior Human Resources professional, he was willing to share his professional knowledge and guide me in the complexities of organizational gamesmanship. Our monthly conversations were invaluable as I was able to bounce ideas and situations off him to determine if my perceptions were accurate or based on my biases. Bruce helped me see the truth in every situation.

Find your Bruce in your workplace or externally through your network. Having someone you trust, who is on your side and not afraid to tell you the truth, will help you see clearly so that you can feel stable and grounded at work. Your friends and family will sympathize with you but a dedicated, no-nonsense mentor or coach can help you make sense of the playing field and win.

What do you do to survive and thrive in the workplace? I look forward to your comments.

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