7 Ways to Handle Office Politics

7 Ways to Handle Office Politics

Vishal Kataria 05/07/2018 5

Most people despise politics. For them, the term is synonymous with backstabbing, greed, betrayal, and sycophancy. It implies pulling others down or stepping on their toes to get ahead.

Politics might sound like a dirty word. But it’s also a misunderstood one.

In the true meaning, politics is the art of influencing others to take action that benefits the majority. It’s about building strong, positive relations that go beyond mere friendships. (Although this is not the meaning we attach to the term today.)

According to Harvard Business Review, the very fact that you’re a part of an organization is a political act. Wherever there are people, there is politics. And to get work done, you must influence them. This influence doesn’t always come with a designation. According to HBR, you ‘get’ power or are granted it thanks to your ability to collaborate with and inspire others.

Avoiding office politics is like avoiding outrage on social media. It’s impossible. Yes, dirty motives and actions of peers are not in your control. But using office politics to ethically get ahead in your career? Well, that definitely is.

Here are 7 proven ways to engage in office politics and gain influence without feeling guilty about what you do.

1. Make your boss look good

Like it or not, your boss is the most important person at work for you. She can save your bottom when you land in trouble. Or she can land it in trouble. Rarely do you hear that someone got promoted as their boss’ boss.

Don’t pander to your boss, don’t suck up to her. But don’t try to one-up her either. Instead, work to ensure that your boss looks good in front of her superiors. If you take care of this aspect, 70 percent of your career is set.

2. Make plenty of friends

Loners are the easiest soft targets for office politics. But people rarely play dirty games with someone who has plenty of friends. Maintain good relations, within your team and outside it. Smile often and hold a positive water cooler chat sometimes. Enquiring about their families is fine as long as you don’t cross a line.

When you have a strong network, wily colleagues will think twice before playing dirty games with you.

3. Invest credit

You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit.

Harry Truman

The most effective way to make friends, and to make your boss look good, is to invest credit.

I'll admit that this is tough. But it serves two huge benefits. One, the more you invest credit in others, the more influential you become. Two, this act makes you develop a stronger internal locus of control.

Each time you get acknowledged for a task, spotlight people who helped you. If your boss praises you in private, walk up to people who helped you and thank them. Doing this will make more people willing to be there when you need them.

Likewise, if you get complimented on your work by people outside your team, share the credit with your boss. Your seniors will see you less as a threat and more as an indispensable asset.

4. Locate the unofficial sources of power

In a family, the husband might be the head, but the wife is the neck. She makes the head turn in the direction she wants.

The corporate is like a family. We've already discussed the importance of influence. In every organization, there are people who wield power without a designation. They influence those with designations. Identify them and find ways to help them.


5. Avoid the takers

And the whiners and cribbers. Takers will squeeze every drop of your blood and still want more. Whiners and cribbers are good for nothing but gossip. Steer clear of such people.

Avoid gossip like a plague. If you gossip a lot, you’ll soon become the subject of gossip. Then, you’re history.

6. Be honest

But not too honest. Learn from your mistakes, but be careful about admitting to all of them.

Being open to your mistakes can get you earmarked as a scapegoat. And when heads have to roll, the scapegoats get targeted first.

On the other hand, if you make a mess, be the first person to break the news to your boss. Don’t wait for her to hear about it from someone else, or after all hell breaks loose.

7. Don't get too comfortable

Don’t get comfortable in your current role. Keep looking for ways to sharpen your existing skills and learn new ones.

Don’t give up a better job because people with vested interests convince you against it. Like the Joker said to Batman, when the chips are down, these people will drop you at the first sign of trouble.

Becoming a people-pleaser is career suicide.

It’s good for people to like you. But it’s important for them to respect you. 'Respect' trumps 'like'. Every single time.

Summing Up

Be fun to work with, but don’t get too close to your peers. Be a person of values, but remain fluid about how you adhere to them. Don’t hold yourself to ridiculous standards, but don’t compromise when you shouldn’t either.

Don’t shy away from office politics. It exists everywhere you go. What matters is how you participate in it.

Each action you take has consequences. If you play dirty games, you might climb higher. But you might fall farther too. And when you do, nobody will be around to pick you up.

But when you help others, you indirectly help yourself. When you clear a path for others, you ultimately become one who controls its direction. You become one who can get things done. After that, only the sky is the limit for your career.

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  • Katie Hothersall

    Practicing good office politics enables you to further your interests fairly and appropriately.

  • Rebecca Lynn

    Most workplaces are political to some extent because we bring our personal emotions, needs, ambitions, and insecurities into our professional lives.

  • Alex Holbrook

    I recommend to be friendly with everyone except rude persons, but avoid aligning yourself too closely with one group or another.

  • Jordan Dalbey

    I hate office politics, but sometimes you have to invest time, listen, slow down and focus on others if you don't want to get backstabbed.

  • Samuel Noble

    It's also crucial to be accountable for your actions. This definitely demonstrates your honesty and integrity.

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Vishal Kataria

Management Expert

Vishal is a business process consultant who helps entrepreneurs grow their startups using proven techniques. He also is a productivity geek and loves writing about his experiments and learning. For weekly insights on leading a happier and more productive life, you can subscribe to his newsletter here. Vishal holds an MBA in Marketing & Advertising from Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Management Studies & Research.

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