Everything I Need to Know About Workplace Politics I Learned During My Summer Internship
While it may sound like great advice to avoid office politics during your summer internship, how realistic is that? The truth is, all workplaces revolve around perceived and actual roles, which is what workplace politics are all about.
Why not use your summer internship to learn about how office politics play out—before you are a fully-invested member of the workplace cast! Using your relatively anonymous role as an intern, take the opportunity to note the various roles that people play in an office. And, become aware of what roles you will play in the future — when you land your dream job!
What Happens If You Try to “Avoid Politics”
You will recognize the “avoider” as the one whose name you don’t know. Because she’s there, but she’s mostly hidden behind her computer screen, eating lunch at her desk. She works long, hard hours and appears to be smart and driven, but when everyone goes out for happy hour on Friday afternoon, she is routinely absent.
Chances are this person may be trying to “high road” it by avoiding schmoozing or taking part in office politics. The problem is that you can’t avoid office politics—in fact, they may have already cast her as being “disinterested,”“not a team player”, and possibly even guilty of what some label “exhibiting poor judgement”.
Is there a way to remain neutral but involved? Of what, when and where to join in – sure, but not avoiding it altogether.
Better to Become Politically Savvy
Because every office is a myriad of relationships, it pays to become politically savvy—that is, to pay attention to what’s going on in the company.
What are the dominating dynamics in the office? Become aware of who has power and influence—especially over you. Define the hierarchies. It may very well be in your best interest as well as the entire team’s if you build a good relationship with the key people who make decisions impacting your future in the company.
What is the culture of the office? What are the social opportunities and expectations? Be especially aware of social cues, like nonverbal communication and tone. There are a wide range of variations in how people interact with each other from office to office. Some offices are jokey and informal, others retain a level of buttoned-up restraint. Take your cues from respected, trustworthy veterans in the company.
Office politics are not synonymous with office gossip—in fact, joining the gossip mill will seriously undermine your role in the workplace, so side-step it. Strive to be involved but positive, engaged but appropriate. If you find yourself on the receiving end of gossip, remain non-committal and change the subject as soon as possible.
Be Wary of “Hurdlers”
Inevitably, there will be people more interested in hurdling over any obstacle they see to promote themselves, even if that obstacle is you! While it’s not wise to thwart their plans, a little awareness and caution goes a long way in making sure you don’t become roadkill under their treads. And be especially careful not to give in to any tendency to become a hurdler yourself!
Build Beneficial Relationships
Given that workplace politics are inevitable, it’s best to surround yourself with the people who seem less inclined to practice negativity. Try to think of positive workplace politics as a way to build beneficial alliances with people who are striving to build an inclusive workplace.
Politics and Your Summer Internship
Signing up with intrnz will allow you to share your workplace observations with the other student interns living and working in New York City. We provide fully-furnished student housing in three excellent locations for your summer internship!