You’ve purposefully avoided hallway corner conversations and navigated around the sea of complaints discussed at the water cooler. You’ve politely excused yourself from the bathroom chit-chat. And you’ve held your tongue and refrained from taking sides in any office debates. Congratulations, you have managed to stay out of office politics. But is this grounds for celebration-or a reason for concern?
"Sometimes you pay when you don’t play," says Letitia Doe, a psychologist for an Illinois correctional facility. "Engaging in office politics doesn’t have to be dirty, but it does have to be done." Doe can cite several examples where participating in office politics and making use of the company grapevine provided her with opportunities in state government.
"I learned about my current position from a colleague I attended a professional conference with who just one day stopped by my office to share a bit of news," she says. "Similarly, I’ve helped others locate equally satisfying positions by just passing the word along that there was an opening in a particular department."
Lorna Harrell, manager of employment and employee relations for a hospital in suburban Chicago, agrees with Doe that engaging in office politics and using the company grapevine can be helpful to one’s career. The grapevine is a "very important source of information that grows out of office politics," she says. "By not participating in office politics in a positive way, you may be stunting your professional growth." You shut yourself off from vital information sources found on the grapevine, people who know about new company trends, changes, job openings and other opportunities.
Harrell maintains that employees who avoid networking internally lose the benefit of shaping or refuting what others say about their own performance, thus forfeiting the opportunity to spread the word about their job performance and effectiveness.
Harrell offers several tips for growing a grapevine that employees can use to cultivate professional growth.
- Get to the roots and water them. "You have to know where to lobby and who to approach," says Harrell. Seek out sources directly connected to the information "vine." Work with these individuals on highly visible projects. Listen closely to what they say about their endeavors, the company’s objectives and especially your job performance.
- Spread a lot of sunshine. Cultivate good working relationships with management, colleagues and subordinates. Actively solicit advice and suggestions for improving your performance. Most people enjoy sharing their opinions and will talk more freely about overheard conversations concerning you if you enlist their help in deciding what action to take.
- Remember that you reap what you sow. Share positive news and your interpretations of company actions in order to solicit the same. Readily acknowledge team efforts and achievements and generously share credit and praise for successful projects. Keep your conversations positive. Refrain from spreading anything fueled by jealousy, resentment or dissension.
"Grapevines are neither good or bad," says Harrell. "Rather, how you use-or don’t use-information and communication will determine whether or not the