If you are going to get promoted or make partner, you need to be able to navigate and survive your law or accountancy firm’s politics. Like any business, professional services firms are complex systems of egos, constituencies, issues, and rivalries. Even the best-managed firm has partners with strong egos,  sensitivities, and empire protectors.

But ignore them at your peril! Here are 12 ways you too can become politically savvy, and avoid putting your foot in it one too many times:

How to Navigate & Survive your Firm’s Politics

1. Identify the movers and shakers who will help you to navigate your firm’s politics

Who are the highly influential people in your firm? They may not be a partner even have an imposing job title. Who are the gatekeepers who control the flow of resources, information, and decisions? Who are the guides and the helpers? If you don’t already know, find out who they are and get to know them.

Be aware of anyone in the firm who has a reputation for ‘throwing their toys out of the pram’ if they are not consulted or involved. Remember that everyone has a mixed bag of behaviours, and if you want to navigate and survive your law or accountancy firm’s politics, keep any ‘labels’ you have for people in your firm to yourself.

2. Prepare yourself before speaking with senior management

Senior management are notorious for being incredibly time-poor and so they often appreciate being informed of issues face-to-face. Be prepared with what you want to say to them and don’t waste their time; if they have given you ten minutes then keep to time or, better still, finish ahead of time.

3. Be very careful when dealing with influential partners

Very often these partners have large egos and can be very sensitive, often because they are managing highly tense situations behind the scenes. As a consequence, there is a lot of room for more junior staff to make statements or act in ways that could be seen as showing poor political judgment. There isn’t usually a second chance to make a good first impression with these people in your firm so if you want to safely navigate and survive your law or accountancy firm’s politics, be aware of your actions and words!

4. Always be prepared to be flexible when spending time with a partner

Very often your time together may be cut short or postponed because a client requires their input. Don’t moan about this – it’s par for the course with a professional service firm. Have a contingency plan if this happens, and be prepared to summarise your key points and conclusions and send a written follow-up.


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5. Exercise self-control before saying what is on your mind

Often people get themselves into political trouble by being too candid and annoying influential people.  While saying what you want to say and to hell with the consequences may make you feel good, it would fail the political savvy test. You need to weigh-up each situation on the candour scale. Are the right people here? Is this really the best time to speak my mind? Should I let someone else start before I pitch-in? Did the speaker who asked for candour really mean it, or could this be a career-limiting conversation? If you want to safely navigate and survive your law or accountancy firm’s politics and make it to partner, it pays to learn to read your audience and sometimes tone down your message.

Click here to download our free guide to surviving your firm’s politics. (email required)

6. Avoid gossiping or supplying information to the firm’s grapevine

In an accountancy or law firm, people quickly find out what you have said about them, and that includes gossip. It can be very easy to get burnt by sharing private views with others in the wrong setting and with the wrong people. If you choose to gossip and pass on stories, it may limit your career. If you choose not to gossip, it won’t limit your career.

7. Avoid sexist or politically incorrect humour

Times have changed drastically but the rules are simple. Any humour that hurts others, demeans others, or makes fun of the difficulties others face is out. What’s left? You can tell clean jokes, make fun of yourself, tell funny stories and laugh with others.

8. Treat everyone as individuals, and with respect

The magic and complexity of life is that people are different. Everyone, particularly partners, requires special consideration and treatment. What may work with one person may annoy another, so you need to learn to read people. Relationships that work in a firm are ones where there is mutual respect – both for each other and particularly in a professional partnership, for what each other has achieved. It’s all part of navigating and surviving your law or accountancy firm’s politics! This leads us on to…

9. Learn to read non-verbal body language

Very often the first sign of trouble will be seen in someone’s body language, rather than what they are actually saying. When you are in meetings or talking with people, tune into their body language as well as what they are actually saying.

10. Be cautious about making a rigid assessment of people

You may do a reasonable job trying to read a person and forming an initial judgment, but it may be wrong or it could change over time. Be prepared to be flexible and to be respectful to everyone you meet, even if they are “lower” down the corporate ladder than you are.

11. Have a kitbag of tools and tactics to help you get things done

Whatever its’ culture, every professional service firm has its own ways of doing things and when it comes to getting things done there are a multitude of ways to do it. For example, you could try the direct approach, or you could speak to your mentor and get them to test the water on your behalf, first.

Some of these tactics are more effective and acceptable than others. Some people get into trouble because they treat all situations the same. Do your research about the most effective ways to get things done appropriately. People who are politically savvy pick their time, pace, style, tone and tactics based upon an evaluation of what would work best in each situation. We all have a number of ways in which we can behave if we want to. It’s the one-trick ponies that get into political trouble because they don’t adjust what they say and do for each audience.

Click here to download our free guide to surviving your firm’s politics. (email required)

12. Avoid being too rigid and inflexible

Being too rigid or inflexible in your opinions leaves you very little room to manoeuvre and extreme views can very often switch other people off. These may be the very people you need to influence or befriend. To avoid being seen this way, where possible, make the business case, first. Be more tentative than you actually want to be, so others have room to get comfortable and negotiate and bargain.

What other tips or techniques would you add to this list to help navigate and surive their law or accountancy firm’s politics?

Click here to download our free guide to surviving your firm’s politics. (email required)

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