Office politics: To play or not to play


Office politics. Should you avoid them, or will that hurt your chances for

Some people pretend office politics don’t exist, or they act as if they are
above it all. But is that the wisest approach?

Maybe not. Some organizational development experts say that avoiding office
politics can impede your career advancement. It makes you look aloof, remote,
even snooty. And this could lead to your being left out of important activities,
or passed over for special projects or for a promotion.

employees at water cooler

So what should you do?

Talking about co-workers and managers behind their backs, spreading rumors,
making fun of people’s quirks, taking credit where it isn’t due, sucking up to
the boss – these are the activities we usually think of when we hear the words
“office politics.”

Certainly no one would suggest you engage in those activities.

But socializing and getting along with co-workers are essential to fitting in
and belonging. Making sure that managers know you are committed, competent and
hard-working is vital to your chances for advancement. And building coalitions
to achieve work objectives can help you meet your performance goals.

When you view office politics in these more positive ways, they can be a
healthy force. But you have to navigate the waters carefully so as to avoid the
snags. Here are some suggestions for how to succeed at office politics by
staying positive:

Practice ‘reflective listening’

“Knowledge speaks –
wisdom listens” said an unlikely philosopher – Jimi Hendrix. One way to stay on
the high ground of office politics is to become a good listener.

Reflective listening means reflecting back to speakers the gist of what you
hear them say and the feeling behind it, often reframing it in a more
solution-oriented light.

For example, when a co-worker is grumbling about another co-worker passing on
extra work and then letting the boss think he did it himself, you might say, “It
sounds like you are feeling slighted because you are working extra hard and not
getting recognized for it.”

Know when to – and not to – use influence

There are some things you can’t control, so your best strategy is to accept
them and let go of any resentment. For example, if someone else gets the corner
office that you had been coveting, it might seem petty to complain.

On the other hand, sometimes you can be a force for positive change. If
co-workers are complaining about a grueling production schedule, and you have an
idea about how to bring about better results, speak up. Even if your idea is not
accepted, you showed that you heard their concerns and cared enough to try to
resolve them.

Stay professional at all times

Being professional means different things. One of them is that you can
contain your emotions when you are upset, stressed out or irritated. Focus on
solving the problem, rather than venting negative feelings at work. You can do
the latter with your non-work friends or significant other.

Confront your saboteurs

If office politics turn nasty and you believe someone is actively sabotaging
you – for example, withholding information or materials you need to do your job
to make you look bad – then you may need to speak to that person directly and
candidly about it.

For example, “Sarah, I notice that you are holding the sales orders back from
me for several days after you receive them. I need them right away so I can ship
the materials. What seems to be the problem?” Let her know that if she doesn’t
change her behavior right way you will take it up with the boss.

Perform random acts of kindness

One of the best preventatives for being victimized by office politics is to
be well thought of by your co-workers. And a good way to do that is to take on
an occasional selfless task or project, or engage in acts of kindness where
there is no obvious pay-off for you. For example, if a co-worker has to stay
late to finish a job, offer to stay and help.

If you learn to avoid the negative side of office politics and engage in them
in appropriate ways, your career may fare better than if you avoid politics