How to Navigate Office Politics and Stay Out From Under the Bus

Office “politicking” is a slippery slope indeed. Like it or hate it, it is part of daily life, no matter what industry you work in. These politics are something of an art that requires an understanding of its nuances to navigate it successfully. With a little practice, you can play the game to influence positive outcomes and enhance your career. Feeling lost?  You’re not alone. But fear not—we’ll review the meaning of office politics and some of the basic rules of engagement to teach you how to leverage the political game for good, not evil.

Most people engage in office politics without even realizing it, and it’s entirely impossible to avoid, so don’t try. It’s not all a game of manipulation though, and despite its negative connotation, office politics can be harnessed for the greater good. The purpose of the game for you should be not only to protect and help yourself, but to do so for others as well. Staying aware and communicating strategically can be a win-win for all.

The Definition of Office Politics: Forget the term manipulation and replace it with strategic communications. Office politics simply boils down to: the strategies people use to communicate with others to gain advantage. Contrary to popular belief, working to gain that advantage does not have to be at another’s expense; it can be used to influence healthy outcomes as well, so let’s focus on that.

Good office politics can help you promote yourself in a positive light, advance your career and lift others up as well. Replace the word politics with networking, and it takes on a whole new meaning. Let’s explore how you can make inevitable office politics work for you.

The Rules of Engagement

Keep Watch

The first rule of engagement in office politics is to become a keen observer of those around you. You can use what you learn to protect yourself while building a solid network of supporters to operate within. First, stand back and watch for a while. Observe how others communicate with and about one another. From that, try to get a handle on who the real influencers are within your organization. Irrespective of position or authority, real influencers are those who are respected throughout the organization and make habit of championing others over themselves. These are the positive leaders you can learn from.

Learn from the Best and Act Accordingly

Once you know who the real influencers are, seek out successful behaviors that you can model with your own authentic style. Usually, true leadership behavior involves championing others by promoting their value and successes.

Project the Positive

Always remember, if you are steadfast in projecting positivity, it will come back to you sooner or later. When you promote others, this greatly adds to your credibility and respect amongst your colleagues, and many will jump at the opportunity to do the same for you in return.

Discretion is Key

Have discretion. If someone (especially your boss) tells you something in confidence, DO NOT share any part of it with anyone! The currency of trust goes a long way; when co-workers have confidence in your relationship and know they can trust you with their well being, they are likely to go out of their way to watch your back.

It’s Not About Kissing Up

Forget the brown-nosing, it’s so 1997. Here are some ways to get ahead while keeping your dignity intact.

-Be your authentic self; people can sniff out a faker a mile away.

-Always project positivity, even when you aren’t feeling so positive.

-Build trusting relationships up and down the organizational hierarchy.

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer

Some people just throw others under the bus for sport, but most negative politickers naturally promote others’ real or perceived weaknesses simply in attempt to shine a more positive light on themselves. It rarely works, but the negativity spreads like wildfire and others happily jump on the bandwagon. Don’t get sucked in—learn how to deal with this type and stand by your values.

-Don’t try to understand their motivations; trying to find reason behind senseless acts of cruelty will only bring you down.

-Observe. Get to know their style and their “co-horts”. Understanding their M.O. will help you avoid the impact of their negativity.

-Avoiding people like this can often backfire on you, so get to know them but don’t align yourself with their “team”.

-Always be amiable towards them, even when they don’t deserve it.

-Be very mindful of what you say to them, as it will inevitably be shared (and not in a good way).

What’s the take-away? Good or bad, politics is a part of life. Thankfully, it’s a tool you can embrace to elevate your career without leaving boot prints on the backs of your friends and colleagues. If nothing else, take this with you: avoid the political game, and risk losing the power to influence decisions that affect your own path. Practice the power of positive politicking, and you’ll earn respect and attract boundless opportunities to advance your career.