Playing “The Game”

How do you play the game as a black woman in the workplace?  First, you must identify what the game is—every career has a different game.  Are you competing with the white men or women on your team?  Is your boss intimidated by you?  Are you competing with your more tenured colleagues?  As women of color, we are always fighting to stay in the forefront of our careers, and it can be draining.


The Game of Croquet

Playing the game with minimal effort and maximum impact is like mastering the game of croquet.  Very few people do it but those who do are extremely good at it.  Let’s take some well-known black women who have mastered and won their games: Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, Beyonce, and Michelle Obama.  No matter what you personally think of these women, they know the game and have mastered playing it like a well oiled machine.

What I’ve learned about “playing the game” in my short seven years in the workforce is first to be self-aware.  This starts with your personal brand (<-click here).  I believe this is a necessity to excel in any career, you need to know how others experience you in order to use your full set of skills to your advantage. Secondly, be competent.  Being competent in your area of expertise is absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, many times we, as black women, need to be even more competent and knowledgeable than our white counterparts.  Thirdly, everyone doesn’t need to know everything.  Sometimes we can be too trusting; everyone doesn’t need to know what you know and how you know it.  Fourth, perfect your communication skills.  This is key! I’ve learned that I can talk myself into and out of anything!  It worked for me throughout my entire academic career and has continued to work in my professional career.  Lastly, set clear goals.  If you are clear on your end goal, it’s a lot easier to stay on path and prevent road blocks.

Sometimes we feel like we don’t want to be a part of the “rat race” or “the game”.  No matter what we say or what our careers are, we are all playing the game.  It’s a balancing act – how to reach our ultimate goals (whether that’s raising your kids or becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company).  The game is just a scary term for knowing how to navigate the system (whatever the system is).  It’s being clear on who you are, making the appropriate relationships (always have a champion and mentor), knowing what to say and what not to say, understanding how to effectively balance work and your personal life, and finally always doing your best at everything you do!

How have you learned to play the game?

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2 Responses to Playing “The Game”

  1. Kay says:

    Two things (in addition to everything that you’ve posted):

    (1) I created mentors in my head. People who are doing great things in my industry, yet I have not had a chance to meet with them. I watch how people react to them and I pay attention to how they manage relationships. I also pay attention to what they’re doing outside of the job. Therefore, I can assess what’s working and what’s not without personal trial and error.

    (2) I self-promote. If I have a new assignment with a new deal team, I’ll tell them what I want them to believe about me. For instance, I’ll mention that we need to be organized because I am. Or that I expect and deliver high quality work. I’ve noticed that colleagues will repeat these characteristics when asked about you. I think it’s a psychological thing, lol.

    Just my two cents 🙂 Great post!

  2. Tanya says:

    Interestingly enough, a mentor early in my career shared his thoughts with me on “playing the game,” and at the time I could not appreciate his point of view. He essentially said that choosing how you view the game is the most important decision you’ll make in your career. His exact words to me were “Don’t think of it as selling out, think of it as buying in.” I was appalled. Bottom line, I didn’t want to be a “sell-out.”

    It has taken a few years of my career to re-define this concept of “buying in.” I now view buying in as getting to know the components/pieces of the game (ie. the people, the purposes, the goals, the leadership, and most importantly the expectations.) It’s asking myself on a routine basis, 1) What are my goals for today/this week/this month, both professionally and personally? 2) Are they feasible considering the needs of my familyi? 3) How do they mesh with the goals of my company/group/profession? 4) Who are the key people that I want involved in my plan? 5) Do I have their support? The list of questions goes on and on but is very critical to the execution of the plan.

    I have found that this very thought, reflection, and preparation better equip me to participate in the game, to be present on the field. The worst effect of the game to me has always been feeling blindsided due to a lack of knowledge (whether it is technical, systematic, personal, and or general). Now that I have learned that preparedness is half the battle, I can approach each day/task with an open mind and more confidence that I am well equipped and skilled to take on the game.

    Now I think of selling out as using “the game” as an excuse not to try to change things or not to be involved. Buying in is investing the time and energy into myself and others to create successful situations in which others involved (ie. my family, coworkers, bosses, clients, etc.) as well as myself feel like winners.

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