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16 Tips for Navigating Office Politics

Office politics is an inevitable part of work life. And unfortunately, avoiding it altogether, or pretending to be above it, is nearly impossible and likely won’t help you move through the ranks. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be negative, as long as you know how to navigate the system. Ultimately, office politics is all about relationship building. It’s how you do it that delineates conniving and manipulative from truly effective leader. Here are 16 tips for positively navigating office politics.

  1. Being good at office politics employs a skill you likely already have: networking. But instead of looking to people outside of your organization, you’re trying to build relationships with those around you. Network with those both above and below you, not just your peers. Try to meet those in your organization who you don’t already know. Go for coffee, or lunch, or just drop by to say hello.
  2. Hard work is great, but it won’t always speak for itself. There are other people at your organization who are lobbying for what they want, and even if their work is worse than yours, if you don’t speak up, you’ll easily be overlooked. Don’t view talking about yourself and your accomplishments as bragging. Speak confidently about your skills and contributions. If you’re uncomfortable promoting your own work, get someone well-respected to talk you up. Consider using your mentor in this role.
  3. Don’t ever be a gossip. Whatever you do in the office influences your reputation. You certainly don’t want a negative one. While that might help you get ahead in some places, it certainly won’t help you gain respect.
  4. If you are in a leadership position, promote a culture of open communication. Is there a hot button issue that everyone in your office is too afraid to address out in the open? Is it creating a rumor mill? By developing and cultivating an environment that values honest communication and constructive criticism, you can end a lot of the drama before it gets started.
  5. When you find something wrong, bring that issue to light appropriately. Don’t start gossiping with your co-workers or bad-mouthing the person who caused the issue. Tactfully address the problem with the appropriate person in the right setting (i.e. if the topic could cause embarrassment, the all-staff meeting probably isn’t the right place to address it).
  6. From the moment you are hired, be aware of your office culture so that you know how to maneuver within it. What is the official structure of the organization? What are the appropriate processes for communicating, getting answers, or asking for help? Spend time learning about the informal structure as well—who gets along with whom, who is in which clique, who has the boss’ ear, etc.
  7. Don’t be afraid of those who appear the most powerful, politically. We all know who the office bullies are. The ones who aren’t really in charge but pretend to run the place. Don’t back down from them. Figure out what their motivations are, their goals, and see how you might be able to help achieve them. But do it with the true intention of greater good—don’t pretend to help those in power if you’re going to try to knock them down later. Also avoid thinking that you can “fix” people. Accept those around you for who they are and learn how to work with them.
  8. Don’t consign yourself to one group. You’ll better navigate office politics if you are a part of many different groups in your office because it will keep you better informed. Positively connect with both those you like and those you don’t. But don’t run from one group to the next and tell everyone what the others are saying, or you’ll have a reputation you certainly don’t want.
  9. This brings me to the importance of building relationships based on mutual trust and respect. This isn’t easy, but you can show others that you can be trusted and that you deserve their respect by staying away from gossip, not speaking ill of your co-workers, and giving a leg up to those around you.
  10. Be aware of your own behavior. Don’t gossip or spread rumors. Consider what information you share with others and don’t assume confidentiality. Don’t be sucked into petty arguments. Be positive, and always make a good impression.
  11. Don’t always immediately speak your mind. Instead, take the time to think about the appropriate response to a situation and remain calm. By doing so, you put people at ease which can open tons of doors.
  12. Look at what people do as much as you listen to what they say. Body language can tell you a lot about how to react in various situations.
  13. When you’re new, listen first. Gain as much knowledge as you can. If you have specific questions, go directly to your supervisor or HR rather than potentially creating unnecessary drama with your co-workers.
  14. Think and strategize ahead. Do you want to propose a new project? A new way of doing things? Before you open your mouth, spend time thinking about your team and how each member might react based on their own personalities and motivations. Think about any other variables that might arise during your proposal (other ideas, perhaps) that could sway opinion. This will help you be more prepared and keep you fluid.
  15. When engaging in office politics, do so with a mind on your team, office, agency, etc. Don’t solely focus on yourself. There is nothing wrong with helping someone else get ahead.
  16. Don’t take everything personally. You’re going to run into people you don’t like, and they’ll probably say something unbecoming about you. It’s important to brush it off and let your co-workers know that you aren’t about to play the negative office politics game.

What are your tips for successfully navigating office politics?

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