How to deal with office politics

Gossip, drama, competition, cliques. High school? Try office politics.  

How to deal with office politics
How to deal with office politics
23 Apr 2015

How to deal with office politics

Photos: ING Images

Like it or not, office politics is inevitable at most workplaces. Some people steer clear of it, either because they feel afraid, above it, or inept at dealing with it.

True, sometimes office politics leads to passive aggressive jabs, being passed over for a promotion, and strained run-ins with your rival in the pantry. But it’s possible to network and practice politics in a positive way that helps your career – or at least prevents others from taking advantage of you.
 

Observe the office culture and political landscape
Observe the office culture and political landscape
23 Apr 2015

Observe the office culture and political landscape

Be a good observer. The organization chart shows the formal chain of authority, but office politics doesn’t always flow the same way. You might find that someone at the top doesn’t really exercise their authority. Perhaps the director is more respected and popular than the VP. One manager might be a better mentor than the other. Titles don’t always define the amount of informal power and influence someone has. Taking note of all this can help you build a strong network. 

Build relationships with people on all levels
Build relationships with people on all levels
23 Apr 2015

Build relationships with people on all levels

Network across the hierarchy with people of all positions, from the CEO to entry-level employees. Build credibility by being friendly and respectful toward everyone, including people outside of your department. Avoid doling out empty flattery; instead, call attention to others’ work. Everybody likes to feel like they’re doing a good job. 

Make your accomplishments known
Make your accomplishments known
23 Apr 2015

Make your accomplishments known

In any job, your goal is to make yourself indispensible. But if you don’t take credit for your accomplishments, how will people know you did the work? Volunteer to help with visible, key assignments. To ensure your rival doesn’t try to take the credit, email your ideas or a project’s progress to your bosses “to keep them in the loop.” But always share credit for successes where it’s due. You’ll forge strong alliances this way. 

Find a sponsor
Find a sponsor
23 Apr 2015

Find a sponsor

It’s helpful to have a mentor, but it’s even more critical to find a powerfully positioned sponsor. What’s the difference? A mentor is someone you go to for advice and support. They play the role of a sounding board or guidance counselor, but they don’t actively advocate for you.

A sponsor is much more invested in the advancement of your career. They’re high-level, influential allies who publically back you up. For someone to agree to be your sponsor and look out for your career goals, they must have faith in your abilities. It’s more of a two-way relationship because they’re putting their name and reputation on the line when they refer you for important projects and game-changing opportunities. As their protégé, if you do well, you make them look good, too. 

Listen before reacting
Listen before reacting
23 Apr 2015

Listen before reacting

Most people hate confrontations. A party feels slighted, people get defensive, a cold war begins, and awkwardness ensues. Or worse, smack talk.

If someone approaches you with a problem, listen. Give them the opportunity to explain. Usually our first impulse is to justify and get them to see our side. But this only makes them more determined to prove their point.  It’s a tedious way to arrive at a solution—if you arrive at one at all. Listen first. They’ll be more at ease once they sense you’re trying to understand where they’re coming from. Then they’ll be more open to your ideas. Always make the other party feel heard. 

Get to know people who practice bad politics
Get to know people who practice bad politics
23 Apr 2015

Get to know people who practice bad politics

Observe enough, and you’ll recognize who plays underhanded games to get ahead. These are people who engage in petty competition, steal credit, and rely more on political prowess than the quality of their work to rise through the ranks. Instead of avoiding these people altogether, get to know them a bit. Be amicable but wary. If you don’t want to become one of their targets, get a handle on their personalities and motivations first. Always know your (potential) enemies. 

Anticipate and read situations
Anticipate and read situations
23 Apr 2015

Anticipate and read situations

Ever walked into a crucial meeting only to get totally blindsided? Politics is tricky because everyone has their own agenda. If you’re not careful during a complex situation, you might lose total control of where it’s going. Anticipate possible reactions and outcomes before a meeting. During an interaction, adapt and tailor your behavior based on the audience and conditions. Pay attention to nonverbal behaviors as well. 

Have knowledge of office news and gossip but don’t be the source of it
Have knowledge of office news and gossip but don’t be the source of it
23 Apr 2015

Have knowledge of office news and gossip but don’t be the source of it

News gets around, and it could be useful to be aware of them. Don’t contribute; just listen. You might learn something worthwhile, like information about an imminent resignation or promotion and who has beef with whom. But take everything with a grain of salt. If your colleague vents to you or discloses confidential information, make tactfully soothing, noncommittal comments like “Really? Oh I didn’t know that” or “That sounds tough” instead of joining in any bashing.

Complaining about your bosses behind their backs reflects poorly on you. It shows disloyalty. And starting or spreading rumors will damage your own credibility.

 

Document things
Document things
23 Apr 2015

Document things

If you’re dealing with a difficult person or someone you’re not familiar with, keep an accurate record of your exchange by corresponding over email. This way, your tracks are covered and time stamped. It’s a basic way to protect yourself from undue blame, but you’ll be surprised by how often people skip this step.


Be sure to document your accomplishments. If an important client or executive sends you a note of praise for your work, save that too. These are evidence of your achievements, and they’ll come in handy when you’re preparing to ask for a raise or promotion. 

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