To get ahead in your career, it’s not enough do your job. You also need to learn how to manage relationships with your co-workers.
That’s because influential co-workers can make or break your ideas. They can be the voice in your boss’s ear endorsing what you just said, or they can be the one blocking you from ever even getting on the schedule with a higher-up.
Because influence comes in many forms, it’s important to identify all the types of people who could be a potential ally — or enemy — when you join a new organization.
But that can take detective work.
“It’s relatively easy to figure out someone’s level of authority in an organization; you just need to look at their job title,” said Gorick Ng, a career adviser at Harvard University and the author of “The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right.”
“Figuring out someone’s level of influence in an organization, on the other hand, isn’t so easy. No one walks around the office with a name tag saying: ‘Hi! I’m a gatekeeper. Talk to me.’”
Beyond those in the corner office who wield clear institutional power, here are some of the most influential types of people you’ll want to befriend at work, according to experts.
1. The Veterans
These are the long-timers who have outlasted chaotic pivots and turbulent layoffs. They are historians who hold key institutional knowledge about how processes came to be and where there is wiggle room for change. Their expertise can be invaluable, especially when you are new to an organization.
Ng described veterans as “people who’ve worked in the organization the longest — and who can help you learn how to effectively navigate the system based on what has and hasn’t worked before.”
Lawrese Brown, the founder of workplace education company C-Track Training, noted that veterans are valuable because they have worked at the company long enough to understand what leadership cares about.
“If you have an organization where people tend to churn out after a year and then you have someone who has been there three years, they’ll be able to [tell] you: ‘Listen, this is what causes a fire here. This is what actually constitutes urgency, or something that needs to be handled immediately,’” she said.
2. The Socialites
If there’s a happy hour, socialites are there. These are the co-workers who seem to know everyone and are seemingly everywhere.
Ng described socialites as “people who are known and respected around the organization — and who can introduce you to the right people and shape others’ perceptions of you.”
Keep in mind that socialites want people to get along, so do not expect them to be confrontational on your behalf, Brown said.
“Their influence is in getting other people to address obstacles for them so they can keep their reputation,” she said. “They are going to be very good at telling you how to get things done without addressing it head-on: ‘Well if you talk to this person, then they’ll mention it in this way. If you bring it up to this person, they’ll put it in the meeting.’”
Their connections can carry them far.
”The people who are well liked at work have social pull — even if they’re not in a leadership position, people will show up to their events and be interested in their take on important decisions,” said Lauren Appio, a psychologist, executive coach and consultant. “They are often top of mind for professional opportunities inside and outside of the organization and are likely to be well networked themselves.“
You’ll want to befriend them so their star power can pass down to you. That’s because these popular colleagues “also may be given more latitude to ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission,’ which may allow them to be more bold or creative in how they approach their work,” Appio said. “Working on projects with well-liked people can give you access to some of that latitude as well.”
3. The Gatekeepers
Gatekeepers are an example of how influence can be subtle. Ng said gatekeepers in the office are often assistants “who work closely with the senior leaders — and who can influence whether you get to meet with them and how they perceive you.”
Gatekeepers can help you get on a senior leader’s calendar right away, or they can keep you waiting for weeks. You want to get them on your side.
“They know the factors that will get you the ‘yes’ and get you the signature for the resources for it,” Brown said.
4. The Politicians
Politicians understand that doing the job alone is not enough to climb the company ladder. They are experts at navigating office politics as confident strategists who speak up to make their achievements known and visible to decision-makers.
“They are very motivated by power. They know that in order to get power, you have to be visible to power,” Brown said.
If you want to rise up the ranks, you could learn from how they play the game. “Their influence comes through their ability to understand how sponsorship is gained,” Brown said. “They know how to get promoted. They know how to get put on a path for the next title.”
In befriending a politician colleague, Brown said you may want to make clear how they will benefit in the short term from your relationship or collaboration.
“If you’re talking to a politician, pay attention to the transaction, because that’s really what it is,” she said. “Politicians don’t tend to play long-term relationships unless it’s somebody way, way above them.”
5. The Mediators
Mediators have a gift for problem-solving. Often, senior colleagues go to mediators when there are impasses because they know they will get something that can be rare in a dysfunctional workplace: fairness.
Brown described mediators as the people colleagues trust to hear them out and be objective about a situation.
“They’re principled in some way. They’re not just going to tell you what you want to hear,” Brown said. ”These are people who are like, ‘Hate to give you a hard [pill] ... to swallow, but you don’t have documentational evidence, so we can’t do anything about it.’ They’re going to tell you the reality of how something goes in people’s favor or against.”
To Befriend Any Of These Influencers, Be True To Yourself About How You Network
Networking can be a pain if it’s done in a way that feels fake to you. So make it enjoyable.
To figure out your mode of forming genuine connections with colleagues, Appio said to ask yourself how you like to get to know people. “One on one? In groups? In formal or more casual settings? What are you interested in when you meet someone new? What do you like to know about them, and what do you like to share about yourself as you get to know someone?” she asked.
“After you’ve checked in with yourself about these preferences, observe or ask co-workers about the organizational norms for networking. Some people may be thrilled for you to just pop by their desk, add a meeting to their calendar or chat them up at an event,” she continued. “For others, it may be more strategic to have a co-worker make the introduction.”
Brown pointed out, for example, that gatekeepers tend to prefer referrals when choosing whom they network with, because they won’t be helping out and giving favors to just anyone. “They don’t want people to know that they hold that much power,” she said.
If you’re stumped on what to say, it never hurts to acknowledge the influencer’s excellence and wisdom.
“In general, you can never go wrong by demonstrating your eagerness to learn and your eagerness to help,” Ng said. “The key is to approach others at the right time — when it doesn’t seem like they’re busy — and with an attitude of ‘I’m here to learn and grow; I’m not here to take your job or make you look bad.’ Unless people are racing towards a deadline, they are generally open to sharing.”