After witnessing thousands of promotions and job searches, this is the best analogy I have to describe what goes on at work: The office is nothing but a game.
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As in any game, there are rules. Make no mistake: The people at the top know the game and the rules – which is how they got there.
Rule No. 1: Get Along
When you're on a team, the rule is to get along and not let petty differences divide yourself and your coworkers.
I know that sounds simple, but consider it deeply. This means it is unacceptable to send terse, cold emails to a coworker – no matter how irritated you are with that jerk. Don't let your frustration affect the way you act. That will only impede team cohesion – which is a violation of rule No. 1.
You have to figure out a way to get along and work with everyone on your team – even the jerks. They can stay jerks – and they probably will. It's how you manage yourself that matters. In fact, if handle yourself well, everyone around you will take note of the jerk. You'll emerge looking great.
Rule No. 2: Avoid Internal Competition
External market competition is a good thing, but internal competition between team members can cause big problems. Never compete with each other within the office.
Know your value on the team. Recognize that your position is every bit as important as any other position. No one is really higher or lower on the team ladder. Everyone has to pull their weight.
Just look at football and how a whole team celebrates after a touchdown. They're all happy. No one is jealous of the one person who ran with the ball. The blockers know the quarterback couldn't throw the ball without them blocking. They have their own internal confidence. They know who they are and what they do well. They don't become scrappy.
Rule No. 3: There Is Enough for Everyone
There is a seat at the table for you. You can get promoted. There is enough of everything in the game to go around. The only thing stopping you from moving ahead is you.
Openly discuss promotions and career growth opportunities that interest you. Don't wait for review time. Understand your political capital and know when you can burn some. The wisest of workers know that being highly liked and competent will get them ahead, and they use their relationship skills to leverage promotions. In their minds, they deserve those promotions and will rise to the occasion – even if it's a little over their head.
I would be less than honest if I didn't point out that not all companies have cultures that support the rules listed above. In high-performing companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, it's clear there is a game being played that relies a little more heavily result on stock market results.
Furthermore, there are plenty of offices we could all point to that have bullies and high levels of dysfunction.
But even then, if you look subtly, there is a dance going on – a game being played.
Can you play the game?
A version of this article originally appeared at CERM Risk Insights.
Elizabeth Lions is an executive career coach. You can learn more at ElizabethLions.com.