Treating office politics like traffic stops
Thursday, March 05, 2015
You may have pursued your career in law enforcement to avoid the boredom and confines of an office environment. Unfortunately, regardless of your position, even in law enforcement you cannot avoid two of the main drawbacks of a desk job: paperwork and office politics.
However, you can use the skills you already have to make the latter a lot easier.
Nothing is routine
In a traffic stop, you either know you are entering a high-risk situation or you are prepared in case it turns into one. Start thinking of your office exchanges the same way.
Meetings with the captain? High risk. Grabbing a coffee? Likely not, but it could turn into something depending upon who is there and what they are planning.
During those interactions, inventory the landscape — just like when you radio in, gather the facts of the current situation. For example, the captain looks mad, there are two other people in the office, both standing, backs to you. Or, with our coffee example, you notice there is no one waiting and a fresh pot is on.
Next, begin your approach. Have a practiced method for how you will engage that keeps you both focused and open to the unexpected. In other words, just like when you approach the car, be sure to have control of the situation by considering what you might be walking into.
Per our two examples, consider this in the first: Are those two other people in the captain's office from the district attorney's office? What could they want? What do I need to be prepared for? Or in the second: Are those pastries next to the coffee pot? Can I beat the dispatcher there before the chocolate ones are gone?
Once you have engaged, remember to maintain control of the situation, be alert and fall back on your trusted skills. You have not gotten this far in your career without knowing how to assess a situation and quickly determine the risks, exits, next steps, etc. Rely on these skills, investigate, ask questions, listen, see where the conversation goes and own what happens next.
Practice equals confidence
Once you have been exposed to the office politics swirling around you, you have two main choices: engage or avoid. It may seem like avoiding is the easiest path, but for a committed officer, it can be the toughest.
The results of office politics — ranging from annoyances (there is never any coffee!) to injustices (how did that guy get promoted?) — are because someone other than you made some effort to ensure that result happened. It will not be too long before your frustration inspires you to do something.
So you engage and, like anything else, there are levels of engagement. Being aware and making a conscious decision to participate in each battle of this longstanding war is the least stressful way to participate.
Know your strengths, understand your own goals and therefore what is important to you (e.g., who cares about coffee, I want a promotion) and then engage on the fronts that matter to you, using the skills you already have.
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