Dealing with office politics: How to win the office politics game

“Office politics” is one of those phrases that used to make me groan. I worked in an office from the time I was a freshman in college until I quit my job last year, and let me tell you, I had my fill. I dealt with situations that would make our presidential candidates wince, and I tried many approaches to deal with it, such as pretending to be completely oblivious to it (a very bad idea, by the way).

But I had one boss, the best manager I’ve ever had, who was great at the game. She’s the one who taught me how to do things like keep a brag folder and remind a senior manager 10 different ways that she still hadn’t approved a proposal. In fact, she was so diplomatic and professional that one of the only “negative” things I heard about her was “she gets along with everyone.” (Yes, she was being bad-mouthed for not taking sides.)

I learned many valuable lessons from this manager, and I came away with a much different understanding of office politics.

Politics and Personal Finance

I started thinking about the role of office politics while reading yet another report on our nation’s unemployment situation. In September, the nation’s jobless rate was at 9.1%, but that figure from the Labor Department doesn’t include the underemployed and those who’ve stopped looking for work. When the underemployed and the discouraged are figured into the equation, the unemployment rate rises to 16.5%. But even that number doesn’t paint the whole picture. An MSN article points out that employment has suffered in other ways, such as:

  • Self-employed workers whose incomes have declined
  • Former full-time employees who accepted short-term contracts for much less pay and no benefits
  • Workers who decided to take on more debt and go back to school, hoping that an advanced degree will land them a better job

It’s a tough time to ask for a raise or tell your jerk of a boss “I quit!” and march triumphantly out the door when you’re worried about job loss. But if you play the office politics game right, you can have better year-end reviews (which go a long way toward getting that raise) and make your work life much easier. In other words, don’t make things harder on yourself by dealing with politics the wrong way — your psyche and your paycheck will only suffer for it.

It’s a Fact of Life

No matter how you try to hide, office politics will find you. Career site Mind Tools explains that it’s an inevitable part of work life for the following reasons:

  • Some people have more power than others because of hierarchy or influence. For example, at many organizations, seniority plays a factor in the decision-making process, even though it’s not explicitly stated.
  • There’s often some form of competition within an organization. It could be anything from a promotion to the corner office to the choice projects. When two colleagues are up for the same promotion, for example, there’s usually a lot of politicking in the office.
  • Many people feel emotionally invested in their job, which means they’ll take measures to get their way. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but when two coworkers have conflicting ideas or goals, it can be a problem.
  • Work decisions are affected by professional goals and personal factors, creating more possibilities for conflict. For instance, one employee with a child is allowed to work half-days, while another isn’t given the option.
  • Office teams and departments often compete for finite resources, which is usually short-sighted and ignores the best interest of the organization. When there’s only enough money for 10 new computers, suddenly every department thinks their need is the greatest.

Even people who don’t work in an office have to deal with workplace politics. My dad, for example, is self-employed, but when he’s on a job site, he still deals with gossip and power plays. It can’t be avoided when you work with people.

Why We Have to Deal With It

I mentioned that I’d tried to separate myself from office politics once. I kept to myself and avoided any conversations that were gossip-like in nature. I clocked in, did my job, and clocked out. Good plan, right?

Wrong. I soon learned that even if you don’t acknowledge the bad politics, you’ll still suffer from it. In fact, you often suffer worse because you’re less aware of what’s going on around you. Others will continue to take advantage of politics, and meanwhile, you’re basically sticking your head in the sand.

You also can’t ignore it by refusing to practice good office politics, such as networking and self-promotion. I had a coworker who complained that her colleague was getting all of the attention and accolades. She believed people should do a good job and then let the work speak for itself. Unfortunately, her approach wasn’t ever going to pay off. By not practicing good politics, she was missing chances to promote herself, her team, and her organization. You don’t have to brag, but you do have to promote your work in a professional and appropriate manner. Remember, too, that most managers are busy people who can’t be expected to notice (and remember) every success from every employee.

It wasn’t until my last two years as an employee that my attitude about office politics shifted, which is why I felt it was important to talk about why politics exists and why we just have to accept it as a fact of life. Next, let’s talk about how to run a positive campaign, as well as how to effectively deal with negative politics.

Running a Good Campaign

In part one, I touched on the importance of promoting yourself and your team, and we’ll explore that a little more, as well as other ways to engage in positive office politics, with the following best practices:

Network up and down

Politicians go on the road to meet “the people,” and you have to do the same, but within your company. For example, I had a department head who weighed in on my evaluation, but I had no interaction with this person. Once again my favorite supervisor had the perfect solution: find a project that will get you some face-time. She helped me get in on a project in which the head of the department was involved, and I was able to make a favorable and direct impression.

Find a mentor (or two)

If you don’t already have one, make it your goal to find a mentor in the next two weeks. I had a couple of them at my last job, and they helped me navigate difficult personalities; look for solutions when I needed a sounding board; and check my e-mails for sarcasm (priceless if, like me, sarcasm comes as naturally as exhaling). Most people like to help others — just be sure to come to him or her with a problem and a few possible solutions. Your mentor isn’t there to listen to you complain or to solve all of your problems for you.

Take initiative

Start something new, even if it’s just a fun thing for your coworkers to do together. Some of my coworkers organized yoga-at-work classes during lunch, fundraising activities, and office holiday celebrations. It doesn’t have to be something that increases revenue to show leadership and team-building skills. (Although if you can identify a way to increase revenue, by all means, go for it!)

Overcome your fear of speaking up

Many people have good ideas, but they’re afraid of being shot down or of what might happen if the idea bombs. But participation is an important part of good office politics. It shows that you’re engaged and thinking of solutions. If you’re too scared to speak up, talk to your mentor about ways to present your ideas at the next meeting or try joining a speaking group, such as Toastmasters.

Look for ways to look good

And not only ways to make yourself look good, but find ways to make your team, your boss, and your company look good. For example, I knew a designer who entered every design contest she could. If the company paid her entry fee, she entered something. She tried to get her coworkers to enter, too, but if one declined, she’d enter a second design into the contest. When she’d win one, it made her look good, and it made her design team and department look good, which in turn made her boss look good. And every boss wants to look good.

Think about the best interest of the team or company

Before asserting your opinion or arguing your case, ask yourself who will benefit. Are you against change because you don’t want to take the time to learn something new, even though it’ll improve a system? Think big-picture and beyond your immediate desires. When a disagreement starting going downhill, try to get the group to refocus on the big picture.

Be positive

This isn’t always easy. Believe me, I’ve never been accused of being Little Miss Sunshine. But the people who constantly complain and play the victim are no fun to be around. People will start avoiding you, even if what you say has some merit. One coworker and I had a routine to deal with tough days at the office: We’d meet at the picnic tables for lunch and spend the first 10 minutes or so venting, then we’d move on and discuss anything but work. Sometimes it’s cathartic to get things off your chest, but it doesn’t lead to positive solutions, so don’t dwell on it. You want a reputation as a problem-solver, not a whiner.

Unfortunately, there’s more to it than running a good campaign. You also have to live with the negative politics.

How to Avoid Bad Office Politics

It can be difficult to stay positive if you feel like you’re living in an episode of The Office, but there are ways to deal with bad politics. Here are some tactics to deal with the negative:

Don’t participate in the telephone game

Gossip will inevitably reach your cubicle, but ask yourself if there’s any credibility to the rumors. Whether there is or there isn’t, don’t pass it on. People who enjoy gossip usually only have half the story, and taking part is a sure way to wind up with your foot in your mouth.

Get to know the people who practice bad politics

Instead of distancing yourself from them, as I once did, get to know these people better. Try to understand their motivations and goals to work more harmoniously with them (or at least avoid being in the crossfire as much as possible). Be polite, but be careful about what you say, too, which brings us to the next point…

Watch what you say “in confidence”

Most things said in confidence will get out, usually starting with “I’m not supposed to say anything, but…” Disclose at your own risk. I tried to be professional and polite to everyone I worked with, but there were very few coworkers I trusted. Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can trust them with your confidential information.

Want to give someone a piece of your mind? Keep it to yourself

You might think it would feel good to “put someone in their place,” but it comes at a steep price. You’ll lose a potential ally (the target of your rage), and you’ll be viewed as unprofessional and difficult, which will affect future promotions.

When all else fails, keep documentation

Sometimes you’ll encounter a particularly difficult person. If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate but necessary to keep records in case the situation escalates or winds up in human resources. Again, keep it to yourself. The last thing you want is for your coworker to hear that you’re keeping a file on them — that’s a quick way to make a bad situation worse.

Whether you call it office politics, networking, or people skills, learning to work well with others is a part of any office-based career (and I’d argue it’s just as important for entrepreneurs and freelancers).

What are some ways you practice good politics? How have you proactively dealt with negative situations?

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There are 68 comments to "Dealing with office politics: How to win the office politics game".

  1. SB @ One Cent At A Time says 24 October 2011 at 05:29

    Borrowing JD’s pet term, No body cares for your job more than what you do.

    April I can’t agree more that you can’t avoid office politics rather, you have to take part in it for your own good. Ignoring politics in office won’t make you climb the ladder.

    Play it safe and play it best. Identify your competitors (whether to get raise or not to get eliminated) and try to do better work, better talking and better playing. Take your non competitors in your side.

    Easier said than done. Always keep a list of your achievements handy. I know what my boss likes to eat. I do know that my boss’s boss like hiking and I go with him for hike through everglades…you know what I mean.

  2. Kris says 24 October 2011 at 05:47

    When I was young and foolish, I used to think that I could get ahead without worrying about politics or networking. I would just automatically be recognized for my stellar work and all would be great.

    Then I woke up in the real world and realized that adults in many ways are just bigger kids and that you do have to play ‘the game’, no matter how much you don’t want to.

    • El Nerdo says 24 October 2011 at 12:32

      Office politics is like being back in high school. It’s sad, but most people’s psychological development peaks at 18–or earlier, even.

    • Sara says 24 October 2011 at 16:02

      Ah, same here. I used to think that if I just did my job really, really well, people would notice on their own and appreciate it. It actually seemed to be working for a while, but then it sort of backfired as my coworkers thought I was showing them up and making them look bad, just by quietly working hard and doing my job right.

      I think office politics are detrimental to business because they reward sycophants and braggarts rather than people who simply do good work. I wish there were a way around playing the game, but unfortunately, I have realized that if I want to succeed, I have to start putting more effort into office politics, even if it means putting less effort into my actual job.

  3. 20's Finances says 24 October 2011 at 05:59

    I experienced severe office politics for the first time last time a couple years ago. I couldn’t believe all of the back and forth. At one moment, people hate you and others they are your ally. It’s quite strange, but I agree it can be both positive and negative.

  4. Adam P says 24 October 2011 at 06:20

    “When two colleagues are up for the same promotion, for example, there’s usually a lot of politicking in the office”

    I was going through this scenario recently, where 2 of us are in the same position and our boss is retiring in the next year. We were both getting our battle gear ready!

    But then my colleague got pregnant (1 year mat leave), no more battle!

    • Bella says 24 October 2011 at 09:30

      I get that this great from your perspective (woo hoo for you :)) but it makes me cringe for you coworker. Because she has decided to become a mother, by default she is ‘out of the running’ for a promotion that seems to only come along one in a great while. Most men will never understand the complexity of trying to juggle not just when you and your spouse are ready but when is a good time professionally to have a baby (really from a strictly professional point of view no time is ‘good’ but some are worse than others). Do you hang in for that next promotion? Or just decide that despite working towards something for several years that being a mother supercede’s any personal professional goals? Which means you have to sort it out when you go back to work (whether it’s 3mo or 6 years), since the vast majority of women do return to the workforce eventually.

      • Elizabeth says 24 October 2011 at 10:27

        Glad you pointed that out! Unfortunately, many employers still look at women and wonder how good an investment they’ll be. After all, won’t they take time off to have kids? Will they drop to part time? Will they be rushing home to take care of the kids?

        Even single women face this discrimination, unfortunately. I’m hoping this is changing with my generation, but I wonder how many employers look at men and wonder: “when will he take time off to have kids?”

      • Sara says 24 October 2011 at 10:35

        While I totally understand that women shouldn’t be “penalized” for becoming mother, I really don’t see how the company would be able to promote her to a position of more responsibility right before a 1 year maternity leave. If she was changing to a more flexible schedule, or was only taking off 6 weeks, I think it would be easier for the company to accomodate her. However, to leave the position either vacant, or have someone else take over all of the responsibilities without the promotion for a one year period while she’s on leave seems unreasonable.

        And I am a woman, have a child, and am currently pregnant. There is no way I would expect my employer to hold a position/promotion open for me for an entire year.

        Is it difficult to be a mother and an employee? Absolutely. Are there things about it that are unfair? Yes.

        And if the other person was a man and announced he was taking a 1 year paternity leave, I wouldn’t expect him to get the position either.

        • Kaytee says 24 October 2011 at 11:54

          I think the year long maternity leave job security is a canadian thing. FMLA in the US only protects 12 weeks. I think it would be hard to return to work after 6 weeks. Don’t most daycares only take newborns older than 8 weeks?

          Being pregnant (first child) in a male dominated field, I was very nervous about telling my supervisor about my pregnancy and upcoming maternity leave. Unfortunately, someone spilled the beans to him before the end of my first trimester. (My immediate coworkers got very suspicious when I kept kicking them out of my office when they came in holding coffee cups. I also started showing pretty early.) As damage control, I put together a contingency plan memo detailing my responsibilities, who would take them over, my estimated dates of leave and my plan in the event of a birth without a live baby and fired it off. He hasn’t mentioned it to my face at all.

          I love telling all those nosy people who ask if I’ll be returning to work after maternity leave that my husband will be the stay at home parent.

        • Bella says 24 October 2011 at 13:12

          Thank you for clearly hitting home my point. You don’t expect the employer to give her more responsibility and then hold her job for a year. How much responsibility is too much? And how far away should the maternity leave be from the promotion? I think you’re clear that if she’s ‘just’ promoted that’s unreasonable. But how is that any more unreasonable that a woman who gets promoted 5 years prior to having children? She’s still gone for maternity leave. By that standard you shouldn’t be promoted until you’re past you childbearing years – that way no employer will be left ‘high and dry during your absence’. But wait, even lowly employees make a contribution that would be missed over the span of a year.
          and no it’s not fair – I don’t expect things to be fair – in fact I personally feel that she still gets the better end of the deal because she gets to be a mom, I just feel bad for her that while she’s clearly worked very hard for a promotion, she’s written off professionally because she wants to be a mom.

        • Jenifer says 24 October 2011 at 14:04

          What would the company do if the man was in an critical accident or some life-changing event? Would he lose his promotion? I’ve seen many companies install temporary managers (acting directors, etc for a variety of reasons. I think a long-term view/strategy would serve everyone better.

        • Lina says 25 October 2011 at 13:25

          If she is the best candidate they should appoint a temporary manager. In Sweden you can basically be home at least 1 year and 6 months. The parental leave is for both parents. Many of my friends, that are in their thirties, has split their parental leave and taken six months each the first year.

          It is not uncommon that persons are appointed to managers just before they go on parental leave. Smart companies find solutions if they want to keep their employees.

      • Tracey says 25 October 2011 at 06:54

        As a childless by choice person who has been forced to put up with 20 years of parents using their kids to ‘win’ in office politics, I have to say that this person made her choice and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Almost everywhere I have worked I had to cover for parents. They were allowed more time off, half days and received holidays off even when the non-parents were more senior or were due for them. I have been told that because I did not have kids I had no reason to need Christmas off. Sound fair? In today’s world, we ALL have to realize that you can’t have it all. You make choices and there WILL be consequences. It’s not about keeping women down..many women do a good enough job of that by being catty to each other, playing the fashion game and bowing to fashions such as 7 inch heels, and flirting our their way into positions they do not deserve. The truly qualified get hurt by this behavior. I would say that overall parents get a pretty good shake in the workplace (I’m not talking about losing time with your kids or having to make tough daycare choices..that’s not in the workplace, that’s homelife) and I cannot see what is unfair about losing out on an imminent position because the person involved CHOSE to take herself out of the running by becoming pregnant.

        • Jennifer says 25 October 2011 at 13:34

          Tracey…thank you SOOO..much for writing this. I could NOT agree more!

        • Annie says 29 October 2011 at 04:01

          Agreed. I’m currently balancing a much larger caseload even though I have a senior position because it’s “not fair” that other women with small children should have to drive far or take the cases with evening meetings.

          Just because I don’t have children at home, doesn’t mean I don’t have other important things I need to take care of.

        • Maricar Belo says 29 December 2011 at 12:42

          Thank you for pointing this out! In my previous job, I had a colleague who had two small children. She was always running off because she had one kid-related crisis after another (one sometimes wonders how true these were). Guess which childless co-worker had to stay late to finish work she invariably left undone.

          While I understand that parenthood is a difficult, difficult thing, it doesn’t give you a free pass to take work more casually. You chose to ride two horses–don’t expect others to pick up the slack for you.

        • Holly says 13 January 2014 at 13:44

          I am also childless by choice and the swath of gratuitous behavior and exceptions that are made and perpetrated in the workplace for those who have kids is nauseating and, frankly, rates as a form of discrimination.

          I have had to double up on my workload for someone who decided to have children and was constantly being excused for her child’s illnesses, soccer games, school events, PTA meetings…the list goes on. However creative one can get with the activities or issues with a child, she conjured them and I was the brunt of them.

          I work for a university, and I wonder how the rural farmers and ranchers (as in “taxpayers”) would like to know that this state institution caters to women who decide to get pregnant by giving them paid time off and have dedicated an entire wing of a building for their private daycare, breast feeding facility and a host of other *mommy * amenities.

          In closing, if you choose to have children and everyone is taking care of you and covering your behind at work, then we should have a say in what little junior becomes when he grows up.

        • Not Bitter says 27 March 2014 at 09:19

          A great employee will not hide behind a computer and complain to website boards, but take action to improve life for everyone. I have kids. I work very hard and do not push my responsibilities off to anyone. I did my time working Christmas, New Years, through family funerals to keep my job, and came right back to work after I had kids. I do the same work as everyone else in my group regardless if we have kids or not. Everyone should get the same amount of sick and vacation time. YOU are responsible for taking it. If you are declined vacation time and are truly being discriminated against, then maybe you should take that up with your HR department and check out the federal equal opportunity laws. If that doesn’t work, I am sure your place of employment is “at will” employment which means you are free to leave and find a job that does allow you to have a balanced home life and work life.

  5. Emily Guy Birken says 24 October 2011 at 06:29

    Great article! I’ve worked many different jobs and have seen politics in every single one of them. I’m not great at playing “the game” and just tried to be accommodating, thankful for favors and generally pleasant. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I have no regrets about how I’ve conducted myself in politically fraught workplaces, but I also know I could have handled some situations better if I was more willing to engage in the politics. Suffice it to say, I’m perfectly happy being self employed at this point.

    I wish there was a way to teach people how to work together in these sorts of environments. Everyone will encounter office and workplace politics, and many people are not well equipped to deal with it. Thank you for writing about this tough issue.

    • Pamela says 24 October 2011 at 07:19

      I agree with you, Emily. I also prefer a collaborative work environment.

      I’ve been pondering this article lately:

      For me, I think the answer is stepping out of the conventional work world and creating a new paradigm. One where you aren’t penalized for being nice or good at your job.

      I’ll let you know if I figure it out. 🙂

      • Jaime+B says 24 October 2011 at 13:39

        It frustrates me that so many continue to confuse “nice” with “pushover”. There is nothing not-nice about not taking the blame for mistakes you did not make and there’s nothing nice about taking the blame. Apologizing too profusely or too quickly is also not necessarily a part of being “nice”. Always putting other parts of your life on hold at the drop of a hat is not “nice”, it’s lacking in boundaries and priorities and allowing yourself to be a pushover.

        You are not “nice” if you never tell someone no, but politely telling someone no is nice. It is “nice” to occassionally take one for the team – it is not nice if you are the only one who does and this happens with frequency, that is being a pushover. It is partially about balance, but also letting go this notion that constantly being a people pleaser is “nice” and anything else is not nice.

      • Jaime B says 24 October 2011 at 13:54

        I forgot to mention this bit of advice I once heard on a conference call.

        If you’re someone who says “sorry” too much, replace “I’m sorry” with “I apologize”. I felt that I was too apologetic at the time and this really helped. I also tend to overthink things – including excuses for other people. I had to break myself of the habit of doing something like “why were you late, was there a lot of traffic?” and start just saying “why were you late?” I try to keep the tone non-confrontational, but no longer do I provide someone with an excuse.

  6. Reggie says 24 October 2011 at 08:33

    I’m fortunate enough to work at a company where the negative politics are at a minimum.
    In fact, my employer teaches us that your Performance is not enough, and that you must also manage your Image and you must also get Exposure to the right people. It’s called the PIE model of career success (Performance Image Exposure).
    If your Performance is the same as another person’s, but they have a better Image and/or more Exposure to the right people, they will advance higher and faster than you will. It’s logical when you think about it.
    As a result of my experience, I think politics can be managed in a positive way without compromising your integrity.
    However, I do acknowledge that my experience is limited to a positive work environment, so I’m sure it’s more challenging when in a more negative environment.

  7. Arti K says 24 October 2011 at 11:00

    Great article, and I can’t wait for part 2.

  8. Drew says 24 October 2011 at 11:31

    Can’t wait for the 2nd part of this series. Office politics is such an interesting animal and I always love getting new ideas on how to mount a positive campaign.

  9. Vic Ward says 24 October 2011 at 11:44

    I worked on 2 jobs for less than 3 years then I worked for one employer for 22 years. My advice, if you have to work for someone else leave early.

    In the latter case, I learned things about people I didn’t want to know.

    I sat in meetings and realized that a colleague was sabotaging a project as payback for a slight that happened months or years before.

    I noticed little barbs others told bosses for the annual review. (Always author unknown.)

    I was working one day when 22 colleagues I worked with were laid off in one afternoon. A few months later we hired new employees.

    Before long only the most recent hires were loyal. The organization didn’t recover before I left a few years later.

    Working for myself is better. I developed a set of rules for clients and colleagues alike.
    1. Work with people who you respect and who respect you.
    2. Finish the work committed and quit as soon as you see the games called office politics.
    3. Be honest.

    I’ve only had to quit one contract in over 12 years. We don’t have to put up with office politics to make a living.

    It’s affecting all the retirees I know. All have horror stories. Everyone has a monitor just above them with power.

    Every retiree I know recovers slowly, if at all.

    For the first few years many volunteer for the same type of work we did before, in organizations that do not respect people who work for free.

    We don’t realize we can do the things we lost in the organizations. It takes years for us to recover our self-respect enough to develop or designing a project. Implement it. Decide if the project is worth while. Then, start another. Someone stole the process from us as someone stole it from them.

    It a bit like a hazing situation I encountered my freshman year in high school. I asked an upperclassman as he hazed us, “Why do you do this?” His reply. “They did it to me when I was a freshman.”


  10. elysia says 24 October 2011 at 12:23

    Ah – is it politics when your boss randomly lies? I work at home as does nearly everyone else in my company. Recently my boss lied about something (said I did something that she did – it was a minor thing, and internal and I didn’t – yet – get negative response on it, but I don’t understand why she even bothered to lie – I found out because I was copied on an email and read the thread, since I didn’t know what was going on).
    I’m willing to play the game insofar as it’s possible from home (and I may be somewhat oblivious just because I hate backstabbing and such), but what do I DO?
    I have two kids in elementary school, so this job and this company are really nice (good pay, great benefits, great senior management) for me. But I don’t like working for a liar who will throw me under the bus for NO reason for something SHE did. I am baffled. Anyone have suggestions?

    • Katie says 24 October 2011 at 12:59

      Sometimes you let the little things slide. If you get any negative feedback, forward it to you boss saying “I’m not quite sure what such and such is referring to, any ideas on how to mitigate the situation?” I think calling your boss a liar and referencing backstabbing based on this one instance is a bit much. I’ve accidentally done the same thing during really busy points, but the email chain had moved on and it wouldn’t have been relevant to go back and clarify. I talked to people about it on the side to ensure that folks knew it was my bad, but if the analyst had just been cc’d on one email, he wouldn’t have known that I took care of it. Cut your boss some slack and don’t worry about it until it becomes a habit.

      • elysia says 24 October 2011 at 13:13

        This is far and away not the first time. She lies about little things all the time. This just happens to be the first time I have written proof that she threw me under the bus for something she did. I wouldn’t lightly reference her being a liar and backstabbing if there was not considerable past evidence to support it.

  11. Jaime+B says 24 October 2011 at 13:22

    Sometimes I feel like a 2nd term President. I’ve been at my job for 12 years and I have no plans to advance further at my company. As such, I’m certainly professional, pleasant, friendly and helpful but I don’t worry about the politics too much. The only thing I worry about is impeachment (layoffs) and I’ve survived 3 rounds of that over 12 years. No one is safe, but there’s no use worrying about something you can’t really affect either. If an employee with great reviews, good performance and good relationship with their manager is on the chopping block – well, there’s not much you can do so why stress yourself?

  12. SomeJuan says 24 October 2011 at 13:28

    I’ve never understood the office politics thing, but then, I never got the high school politics thing either.

    In both cases I tried/try to be nice to everybody, did/do good work and got/am getting a fair shake.

    Also in both cases when the gossip and backstabbing starts, there is almost always a way to avoid getting caught in the middle, such as saying “I don’t want to get caught in the middle of this”.

    Hey, Switzerland seems to do alright for itself.

  13. Chickybeth says 24 October 2011 at 14:58

    This type of post is just what I need right now. I can’t wait for part 2. Dealing with negative gossip is a huge part of my job right now and I hate it.

  14. Kaitlyn142 says 24 October 2011 at 16:17

    I need part 2 ASAP! I’m currently embroiled in an office politics situation against someone who is very talented at political games, while I … not so much.

  15. MC says 24 October 2011 at 17:31

    I’ve found Politics far outweighs performance in both of my careers for Fortune 50 companies. It’s expected everyone is good at their jobs so, it’s those that play the game better that are promoted/rewarded. I used to have the point of view that said, do great work and you’ll be recognized and rewarded. Now I know, it’s do a few meaningful and big things and sell the ideas and results to as many who’ll listen… Daily tasks and responsibilities be damned.

    I work in a role where we have 10-15 people who are all highly qualified to move to the next promotion but only one gets it. So often the narrative is constantly being shaped about what that next great candidate for the role would look like.

    Some frame themselves as “great leaders and delegaters who can hold people accountable”, who other people frame as, “doesn’t know what’s going on, can’t lead reasonable solutions for improved outcomes, needs others to be high performer”.

    And the inverse, “is in the weeds, doesn’t understand the big picture, and micro managers”….

    I’d like to consider myself as one of the more capable candidates but the waiting game, politics, interviews and ultimately what your future boss wants has much more impact on the rewards of that promotion than anything I actually do in my current role to drive great results… so I too am really interested in Part 2 of the series as I continue to construct that narrative that is my personal brand.

  16. Erin says 24 October 2011 at 19:53

    This article and the comments have solidified my belief that I need to run away from my office job as soon as possible and never look back!

  17. sai says 24 October 2011 at 23:32

    This is just the article that I was looking for and is so relevant for my present situation. For quite sometime now, I have taken the attitude that I shall give my best and as I am good at my job, I shall be automatically recognised. But I have started to realise, in the long run, I am losing out to people who are in the know.
    So, I am eagerly looking forward to the next post on positive office politics- actions which enhance both personal and organisational goals.

  18. Casey says 25 October 2011 at 03:55

    Oh man! It is *so* heartening to read your comments (no offense, April, I loved the column, too).
    I’ve been teaching middle and high school for over a decade and am fed up with working with angry old biddies. Your comments make me realize that it’s not just school, it’s everywhere! I’m not special, I’m just experiencing the real world. Reality check. Check. Moving on. Check. Anxiously awaiting next week’s post.

  19. Jennifer says 25 October 2011 at 13:30

    Well..I for one REFUSE to get involved with any politics where I work. I am an Emergency Room nurse…the only opinions I care about are my patients and my co-workers. In nursing….if your boss has issues with you…you are actually probably doing the right thing….advocating for your patients, co-workers, and profession.

    I could care less if I get overlooked for special projects or if I only get a 1% raise over the massive 3% raise that is is maximum. It’s not about getting ahead…or getting the raises….it’s about doing what is right by my patients and being able to look in the mirror everyday.

    What ever happened to integrity, I wonder?

    • Elizabeth says 25 October 2011 at 15:45

      Kudos 🙂

  20. CertainMoney says 25 October 2011 at 16:26

    Be helpful but don’t be a pushover. I’ve seen many yes-men rise up the ladder only to take the fall for someone else because they never learned to stand up for themselves.

  21. Valerie says 25 October 2011 at 19:38

    At my last job the politics was so bad that they made the whole department go to group therapy together. I eventually quit and it has taken me over a year to get my sanity back and to be able to start to trust people again. Office politics sucks, can be damaging and I absolutely hate any minute particle of it.

  22. Amber says 26 October 2011 at 12:31

    Ignoring office politics cost my first career oriented job.

    I thought that good work would speak for itself, though I did gloat from time to time and was extra attentive to the overall production and my manager’s expectations of my project.

    Ultimately competition and perception played a huge part in what they felt was a ‘good’ offer when it came time to renegotiate my contract (60% pay cut with full duties and 50hr work week). This insult coupled with “we can hire a monkey to do your job” led to my leaving the company. A year later, they had to hire 5 people to replace me.

  23. phoenix says 27 October 2011 at 08:02

    Love the post–LOVE it!! But what a teaser 😉 Waiting for Part 2 . . .

  24. Elizabeth says 31 October 2011 at 05:19

    All excellent tips 🙂

    I was wondering though, does anyone else have social media issues? Some of my coworkers are also friends, but I’ve ended up excluding them from my Facebook and Twitter accounts because I was learning things I didn’t want to know. Work-related things, not to mention seeing how much time they were spending watching videos, tweeting, etc. while I’m working my butt off! Or how they were partying the night before then I’m covering their work the next day while they are “sick”. I wouldn’t rat them out, but I could feel my resentment brewing. Now I worry they’ll think I’m being anti-social. Crazy, isn’t it?

    I know people should be smarter about what they say on social media, but they aren’t! I don’t think you just have to watch what you say in confidence — I think you need to be careful what you announce to the whole world too.

    • Tim says 31 October 2011 at 08:36

      You bring up a good point Elizabeth. I’ve de-friended my friends from work and let them know about it too. I told them I don’t want certain people looking at every picture / ‘like’ of mine, so I won’t be adding any coworkers to my facebook. Each person agreed and did the same on their profiles.

    • C.Rivers says 31 October 2011 at 09:33

      Yes, to social media issues. What I do on Facebook and Google Plus is accept all friend requests from coworkers, then put them all together in a group with very limited visibility to what I post or others post about me. Google Plus is much better at that sort of thing than Facebook. This way, I can accept the request (and not reject it), but they don’t see what I don’t want them to see. And if they ask me in real life why they don’t see anything on my Wall, I just tell them I don’t use FB that much.

  25. Beth says 31 October 2011 at 05:30

    One thing I’d add is “control the message about yourself” – watch how people describe you. When three people tell you e.g. not to be too blunt when you’ve given them no sign of bluntness, the reason is usually someone gossiping about one incident that got exaggerated in the telling. If this gets out of hand, it could give you an unearned reputation for years, but in the early days it’s enough to tell the same three people how that incident actually went.

  26. My University Money says 31 October 2011 at 05:43

    I find that the “bad politics” are much less effective in the office than in elections. In an office setting, things are too close and intimate, and what kind of value you have will get around sooner rather than later. In my experience, no one who practices that sort of negative politicking, gets far for it in the long-term.

    In regards to the comment above, I tell my co-workers I never go on FB anyway so not to bother adding me. It’s just not a good policy, I don’t want to take the chance of my of my goofball friends posting something that could really hurt my personal “office politics” campaign as I try to build a reputation and climb the ladder.

  27. Emily Guy Birken says 31 October 2011 at 06:19

    I found that killing people with kindness and politeness really made a big difference in a not-great office environment. One year of teaching, I shared a lunch break with three others in my department who would go out for lunch every Friday without inviting me. They would even discuss their plans in front of me. One of the three felt bad about it and made an excuse to me during one of their planning sessions and said (with clear insincerity) that I was welcome to join them anytime. Rather than say something sarcastic, which I kind of wanted to do, I said “Thank you very much!” very brightly and let it drop.

    By the end of the year, I was invited to lunch, offered teaching materials and treated as a colleague. By making it about winning them over instead of resenting them, I made the entire situation much more positive.

  28. Leah says 31 October 2011 at 06:48

    I made the mistake of giving someone a piece of my mind . . . during a meeting. That’s a mistake I will never make again. I wasn’t even giving a specific someone a piece of my mind, per se, but venting about a policy. My concern and thoughts were valid, but they ended up being ignored due to the manner in which I presented them. Even after I apologized and followed the appropriate method, people turned a blind eye because of the initial outburst.

    Far better, I have found, is to first get the emotion out (journaling, trusted non-work friend, therapy, screaming in rage in the privacy of your home, etc). Then, rationally and calmly work your way up the ladder with your rational and calm concerns.

  29. Joe says 31 October 2011 at 06:52

    Earlier this year I changed organizations, where the office politics are much different than anything I’ve seen. I’m used to working in teams, pushing to achieve new goals, etc. At this new organization, everyone in my department has been here for at least 5 years, most have been from 10-20. It seems they are set in their ways and don’t really have the drive for the things I mention. Most complain everyday about hating their jobs and wishing they could find another one.

    My question and I think it ties into this website directly, are there are 8 people in my department and everyday some people will go to lunch. It’s not everyone or the same people, every day, but there is always some group going. I try going to lunch once every couple weeks because I feel obligated and don’t like being left out, but I find it hard going as often as the rest because for one, I live 5 minutes from my office and it’s much cheaper eating at home and second, the conversations usually revolve around how much everyone hates their jobs or what they’re working on and I would just rather not be apart of that.

    How do people handle those conversations and also, handle eating out for lunch when it’s often more expensive and usually more unhealthy for you?

    • Danielle says 31 October 2011 at 08:08

      I used to be in this exact situation. I would try to gather everyone to eat in the cafeteria, or mention that I’d love to join them if they brought food back to eat. However, I would make an effort to go out with them every 2 weeks or so, and just make sure I either ordered something small, or large enough that I could make it into 2 lunches.

      I also made friends with people in different departments who were motivated, young, and saw the value of eating lunch brought from home. It was much more interesting to discuss work with someone whose job I didn’t have insight into on a daily basis.

  30. Greg Miliates says 31 October 2011 at 08:26

    These are excellent tips, since you always want to take the high road.

    Toward that end, a bad job/boss is actually GOOD for you, because you can use your negative emotions to propel you toward something better. Keep thinking about your crazy boss and lousy job each day, and you can motivate yourself to take actions every day that move you to a better situation.

    I made the transition from frustrated employee–with a micromanaging boss–to empowered business owner. I started a consulting business part-time, and built it into a full-time endeavor which is the sole income for my family of 4. I’ve QUADRUPLED what I used to make at my day job, and have much more flexibility. Being self-employed, I actually have a lot LESS stress than I did with my former day job (and bad boss).

    Whether you decide to start your own consulting business as I and lots of others have done, you can use a bad job to propel you toward a better place.

    You can check out an interview I recently did where I talk about how I made the switch from employee to consultant, and where I talk about some of my initial fears & doubts, and give actual income and rate numbers:

    Greg Miliates

  31. Lyn says 31 October 2011 at 08:42

    Great post! For those of us with more grey hair than not, how about BEING a mentor? It’s a great way to work with new, young employees and often be exposed to a different way of looking at the “way we’ve always done things here.” It’s a win all the way around.

  32. Ellen says 31 October 2011 at 09:23

    One tip I learned recently about speaking up in meetings (from Atul Gawande):

    If you hear your own voice once, during a meeting, you are much likely to speak up again. Even something as simple as introducing yourself can have an effect on your contribution to a meeting. This is especially important in meetings with people you don’t know, or don’t know very well.

  33. 20's Finances says 31 October 2011 at 10:02

    I am currently taking initiative and starting new projects for myself at work that will help the organization look good. No only will this help me look good, but it will ensure that I won’t get let go during the project.

  34. Terry says 31 October 2011 at 10:46

    I escaped office politics altogether by starting two businesses of my own.

    While I was still working a 9-5 job I began buying fixer-upper houses and converted them into rental properties.

    When I finally quit my regular job last year to carve out my own niche, I also starting up a second business writing “how-to” books.

    Between those two businesses, I am happily self-employed, doing what I like to do. And, I now no longer have the stress associated with an 9-5 job.

    As Emerson said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no pah and leave a trail.”

  35. Mondo Esteban says 31 October 2011 at 12:20

    The office refridgerator has its own set of office politics alone.

  36. Krantcents says 31 October 2011 at 12:41

    Focus or concentrate on what is important and ignore the rest.

  37. PawPrint says 31 October 2011 at 14:12

    I no longer work, but I do volunteer, and the information is useful in that arena, too. Non-profits have office politics, and volunteers sometimes get caught up.

  38. Samantha says 31 October 2011 at 14:23

    Hope you won’t mind me pointing out an editing error:

    “When a disagreement starting going…”

  39. Laura+in+Cancun says 31 October 2011 at 16:30

    Great post! We’ve had some pretty heavy office disputes in the last 6 months, and I skated through it with 0 enemies by keeping my ears open and my mouth shut.

  40. Cara says 01 November 2011 at 02:25

    Great post, this area is often overlooked in blogs (as lots of bloggers aren’t in the corporate world) but office politics is important! And advice such as “ignore it” and “bring in your lunch regardless” isn’t helpful. Thanks for the insights and tips!

  41. Vince Thorne says 06 November 2011 at 22:34

    useful tips

  42. Tim says 17 January 2012 at 15:50

    Thanks so much for writing about how to win the workplace game. Its really good to know because lately my cubical at work has been hectic.

  43. Rakhi says 20 October 2012 at 07:29

    You have provided great tips on office politics. I am also victim of it when I was working at one of the office. Now, I am just preparing myself for it.

  44. Brownie says 17 February 2014 at 00:19

    How did your situation turn out? What did you do with your lying boss?

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