The Bottom Line on Office Politics

Photo by Meme Binge, Flickr

What exactly are “office politics?” For many, the idea has become synonymous with deception, end-runs, sabotage and “kissing up”. If this describes the politics where you work, you’re probably dealing with a toxic work environment where politics alone are not the problem.

Every environment that contains more than one person will have its share of politics. People who move ahead in their organizations are typically adept at office politics. But that doesn’t mean they’re using the damaging tactics described above. In healthy organizations, a more accurate description of someone who is good at office politics would include:

  • Being able to deal with people tactfully.
  • Knowing whom to count on to get something done
  • Understanding the structure of the organization so you can align your goals with its needs.
  • Finding out what additional education, information and skills you need to move ahead in the organization, and knowing how to attain them.
  • Knowing how to use what and whom you know in a positive way to reach your goals
  • Finding out what pleases your superiors, and doing it.
  • Going above and beyond what your boss asks for and expects. [1]

Becoming good at office politics (the constructive kind!) takes certain basic skills, the first of which is communication. It’s important to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it without getting people’s back up. Blurting out whatever comes to mind is not politically astute behavior.

Listening is even more important. Politically capable people have well-developed radar. They listen carefully to what’s being said and notice what’s not being said. They also become good at reading between the lines, picking up on non-verbal signals, and keeping their ear to the ground for rumblings in other parts of the organization.

If you’ve always avoided office politics, there’s a good chance you haven’t gone as far as you could in your professional career, since it’s incredibly hard to succeed in a political environment without some political savvy. On the other hand, if you’d like to start flexing your political muscles, here are a few tips to get you started:

Cultivate your interpersonal skills.

  • Take communications courses.
  • Spend more time working in groups and on teams.
  • Network more.
  • Get to know the people you work with and strive to understand what matters to them.
  • Get to know your boss as a person.

Gain a better understanding of the organization

  • Learn about the structure and history of the organization.
  • Get to know people throughout the organization, what they do and how they contribute.
  • Identify the decision makers throughout the organization and learn about the types of decisions they’re responsible for.
  • Find out what the organization needs to succeed and figure out how you can best contribute.

Cultivate connections

  • Seek a mentor who can help you understand how things work behind the scenes.
  • Become a resource to others—do your homework and be ready to step up and help.
  • Actively participate in work events and work-related social events.
  • Make friends and cultivate allies.

Rather than rejecting office politics because of a few destructive people, recognize that a hidden network of connection and influence is integral to any situation that requires groups to work together. Take the time to learn how the office politics work in your organization and then make them work for you.


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[1] Excerpted from How to be Skilled at Playing Office Politics by Patricia L. Fry. 5 Minute Workshops for Effective Communication. Briefings Publishing Group

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