Dealing with office politics

How come it feels like you sometimes get left behind in the workplace?

Even though you turn up on time, work an honest day and do the best you can, some people just seem to always be ahead of you in terms of promotion, influence or privileges. Perhaps they know how to play the ‘office politics game’ more than you do. Of course, your career and the world of work is not a game and you shouldn’t feel pressurized into treating it as such. But it is a reality that whilst you’re running along one track, you’re working with people who are running on a whole other track.

How do you reconcile your desire to just get on and excel at your work with the fact that your workplace is full of people who a) know when to do what and who to speak to in order to get what they want and b) act like this is the default for getting what they want because your bosses allow—and may even encourage—it?

A Popular Game
Commonplace in most modern day employer organisations, the term ‘office politics’ refers to the strategies use to garner favour for themselves within a work setting. This isn’t about just keeping your head down and doing the work you’re paid for. People well versed in office politics will gain an edge on colleagues by claiming credit for work they didn’t do or spreading gossip about their co-workers.

Playing the Players
To survive and thrive in the work environment, you may need to play the players at their own game—but that doesn’t necessarily mean sinking to their level. Reclaim the term ‘office politics’ by freeing it of its negative connotations and playing a game of ‘positive’ office politics instead. Build relationships with the influencers within your company. These are not necessarily just your bosses or seniors, but also those individuals who are really clued in to what the business is doing and who always contribute positively to team meetings. Learn from these people—Make your own positive contributions to team meetings and take an active interest in the direction in which the organisation is developing.

An important tool in finding out what’s going on around you is the ability to listen.  Listen to what people are telling you. This will ingratiate you with them, if nothing else. Listen to conversations openly going on around you. Follow email chains to find out what the key and most discussed issues are in the business.  Be curious and ask questions on things that interest you. This intellectual curiosity and thirst for learning will also work well in your favour.

Maintaining Standards
No matter how determined you are to engage only in positive office politics, being subject day-in day-out to whatever environment can lead to you adopting certain habits without even realising it.  Be sure to avoid becoming engaged in negative tactics by:

•    Refusing to become a gossip monger or to spread rumours
•    Resolving disagreements and misunderstanding quickly and with open communication
•    Remembering the importance of professionalism, for the sake of both your and the company’s reputation
•    Not complaining about others behind their back or complaining about something that you could easily change
•    Not letting personal feelings affect your professional judgement
•    Using wisdom and sound judgement in your decision-making

Office politics may be inevitable but you don’t have to be a victim of negative politics or even indulge in them.  Play a positive political game and you may not only get to where you want—and where you deserve to be, but you might become a positive role model for your colleagues, changing the way that they themselves play the game forever

By Simon North, co-founder of Position Ignition, UK based career consulting company and authors of How to Get the Job You Want and 125 LinkedIn Job Search Tips.