Five Ways to Master Office Politics
Office politics is not a dirty word; you’ll go further if you can play.
Believing good work always speaks for itself is naïve. Sadly, many bosses rise to authority because they understand and play dirty office politics.
Even in work cultures where bosses effectively deal with backstabbing, gossip, and office maneuvering, playing politics matters. If the right people don’t know about your performance, your performance doesn’t matter.
I’ve had more than one conversation with disenchanted professionals that were blind-sided by backstabbing and office gossip. Bosses don’t like getting involved. To make matters more interesting, office politicians are often talented high performers.
- Identify power brokers and don’t go against them unless you can clearly demonstrate its better for the company. Be for your organization not against them.
- Make people need you. Excel at something others need. It’s best if your contribution fills a gap someone else isn’t filling. That way you aren’t competing or challenging another’s performance.
- If you are the brunt of office politics, don’t tell your boss “they” are out to get you. Put organizational interests and reputation above your own. If need be, you could say, “A colleague undermined me to our clients.” But, don’t expect the higher ups to intervene because your feelings are hurt.
- Never defeat gossip with gossip.
- Never go toe-to-toe with a manipulator. I had one proudly tell me they could cut you in ways it took you days to realize it happened. By then, it’s too late.
Wake up call:
Constantly focus on:
- Relationship building.
- Building alliances.
- Loyalty to the team.
How do office politicians demonstrate useful skills even as they build themselves up at the expense of others?
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Excellent post Dan!
I totally agree with you, that politics is not a dirty word. Infact it has been made to sound like a dirty world by the people who have power, because it well helps them keep it!
I wrote quite similar post a few weeks ago.
Thanks Sachin, It took me years to accept the reality that dirty politics was tolerated in some offices. It took me longer to understand there is a good side to politics. Cheers, Dan
Navigating office politics is like walking through a rough neighborhood. Keep your head up, be aware of what’s going on around you.
Good manners, smiles and gentle confidence help you survive.
Anger, attitude and a threatening manner will not end well.
Keep to the high road, but be aware of the reality that comes with working with human beings.
Thanks for encouraging us to take the high road. I hope it’s clear that when I say office politics isn’t a dirty word, I’m refering to the high road.
I appreciate your effort to bring very useful and prevalent topics from time to time. The meaning of politics in Latin is many blood sucking bugs. I think, office politics work in the same way. It sucks the blood of innocent and honest people. Office politics is always practiced on the expenses of other careers. The root cause of office politics is incompetency of system and people. When people are more shaky and incompetent, playing politics becomes the safest and best strategy to safeguard their position. While they play politics, they create space between honest, innocent and deserving employees with bosses by creating distorting information, spreading rumors, making issues etc. They get power and energy when bosses listen to them. I think, top management is more responsible than actual politicians in the organizations. They constantly on alert, so that they can pass the issues to bosses in spiced form.
There is hindsight to these kind of practices, Politicians never become happy, they also fail to balance their family. they become decease prone because they think negatively. They lose as much as they can not regain by their achievement, Their achievement is empty, meaningless and criticized everywhere. The best way to deal with office politics is to discourage mask layered people, punish rumor mongers, make automation, encourage authenticity,appreciate deserving and honest people.
I wasn’t sure where the first push back would come from but I’m thankful it came from you. Love the blood sucking bugs illustration.
We agree that negative office politics is destructive and that bosses have the power to tolerate and encourage or not tolerate and discourage negative office politics.
Where we may not see eye to eye is that many people playing office politics are very talented people. In addition, a boss who is good at office politics – building alliances etc – is also good at getting great projects and resources for his team. I think of good office politics as using skills to accomplish noble rather than ignoble goals.
As always, thank you for contributing to the conversation. Your comment is packed with great stuff.
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Since the original, pure definition of politics had to do with building concensus to make the decisions needed to govern, I agree that to some extent it will always be present and maybe even is needed in organizations. The alternative to politics is dictatorships. If you want freedom from micromanagement, you will always have to get some things done by negotiating, deal-making or persuasion. This invites others who see things differently to work against you, and that’s where we see the dirty side of politics emerge.
I think there’s something helpful in understanding that people play the politics game from a position of strength. Dan, you encourage us to build strength through competence, and that is exactly right. There’s clout in being recognized throughout the organization as knowing your stuff, and for getting things done. If you don’t have that, you’re left with more underhanded “strengths” and the course that seems best may be to attack and undermine your opponent.
Remember, the higher the road you’re own, the harder it will be for the ones on the low road to get at you.
Well said, Greg.
Nicely said. Love the insight that people play politics from positions of strength. I’ll add that they play politics to achieve positions of strength when they feel they are weak.
As you know, I’m all for the high road. However, walking the high road oblivious that the low road exists is naive and dangerous.
Perhaps the real issue is what one does when the dirt starts to fly?
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I wish Dan’s blog had a “like” button so I could use it on your response and the following comments, Greg. I feel fortunate to work in a relatively small department on a relatively small staff where each person has his or her responsibilities that don’t overlap too much with others’ responsibilities. I see politics more in how and who the people in my office build relationships with and less in undermining each others’ work because of competitiveness, but I’m not sure that the tactics are really any different.
I’ve got to admit, Dan, that when I first read the title of your post I went, “ugh.” Mostly because my head goes to the negative images of politics, office and otherwise. In both cases it drains my energy.
I’m thankful I read on because you make some good points. While I may believe that there is an unnecessary level of “politics” that occurs because people are conflict adverse and have trouble having difficult conversations, there is a very legitimate side of politics that is about collaboration, listening, debating, and coming to decisions that benefit our customers and our organizations.
I will try and remember the good a legitimate uses of relationships (politics) the next time I have the urge to say, “ugh.”
Thanks for your comment. I’m with you, I hate office politics in the traditional, negative sense. Personally, I’m very uncomfortable with the whole thing. It smacks of manipulation, deceit, etc.
I’ve come to appreciate that success includes the ability to play politics in noble ways while understand the dark side is out there.
I’ll help you so you will help me doesn’t sit comfortably in my heart. I want pure generosity and frankly do my best to practice it. HOwever, the realities of organizational life include deal making.
It’s the manipulative deceitful aspect that drives me nuts.
Best to you,
Interesting post and replies.
To me, this sounds a lot like something I’ve had a lot of discussions about lately, which is “personal brand.”
We all have a brand (a perception of other people about who we are, what we do, what we’re good at, etc.). Managing this personal brand is key to advancing in a career. Like Dan said, it doesn’t matter if you’re the most talented person in the office – if no one sees the value that you bring, it doesn’t really help you.
Perhaps another way to look at the politics game is to think of it in terms of proactively and assertively managing your own personal brand.
KaChing! The term brand hadn’t occurred to me. What organization or individual isn’t concerned for their brand. You open the conversation to managing perceptions and that’s so important.
I wish that just keeping our heads down and doing a great job was enough. Because it isn’t always enough sensitivity to our brand, managing our brand, protecting our brand is essential.
Thanks so much Dan! Office politics (or in my case school politics) scare me, but I’m getting that I have to be able to walk calmly into the mess. I thought the most eye opening part of your post was the comment from the manipulator. Going to the organizational lens in discussions is a great way to deal with them. Thanks!
Best wishes as you pursue personal and organizational success. I spend 15 years in the educational world and know it can be highly political.
I would just snicker and let other people opine away about office politics if I had not, just three days ago, responded to the trainer who is working with our management on emotional dynamics, that the #1 factor of my “ideal environment” would be: “Environment where I can be part of the team, but removed from office politics.”
Here’s what you asked: How do office politicians demonstrate useful skills even as they build themselves up at the expense of others?
I suppose the answer is that the useful skills these office politicians have are good skills, misdirected. It is a true “skill” to be able to read multiple people at once and know intuitively where their strenghths and weaknesses lie. Destructive office politicians are inward-looking and choose to exploit the weaknesses for their own good. Productive office politicians sense the strengths and encourage their use so that everyone creates a better product.
Politics isn’t a dirty word. Sticking to the high road, looking things from the organizational perspective, building collaborations where appropriate and maintaining/building positive relationships, while all sounding cliches, do work for me at least.
When folks start taking things personal, thinking they are bigger than the organization or building empires for selfish reasons, that’s when things start going wrong.