Five Tips for Winning at Office Politics

Thriving and Surviving Amongst Office Politics

Thriving and Surviving Amongst Office Politics

I’m tired of hearing people complain about “office politics.” Sure, nobody likes the office suck-up, the liar, the manipulator, or the guy who takes credit for work he didn’t do. Those people aren’t “playing office politics.” Those people are being jerks, and nobody likes them.

Wherever there are two or more people, there are politics. Politics is just the way to get people to get along with each other and figure out how to things done. If we didn’t have politics, we’d be killing each other. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t enjoy that office environment very much.

So if politics is just part of life, how do you play it to win? You play it in such a way that no one would ever accuse you of “playing office politics.” When you read this list, you’re going to think, “Dan, you’re blowing smoke up my skirt!” Bear with me. These tips work if you work them genuinely:

1.)  Take a genuine interest in every person that you meet and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
Unless you’re the Chairman of the Board or the night janitor, there is always someone in your office who is more or less influential than you. If you find that you are especially attentive to executives, learning their names and ingratiating yourself to them, be sure that you are just as attentive to support staff. Consciously choose how you’re going to behave toward people who are supposedly “less important” than you. You never know how their influence could help you later on.

If you host a working lunch, make sure to tell the security guard to come by and get a plate before or after. Nobody remembers to invite them to things.  Be especially kind to administrative assistants. I have a bad habit of messing up administrivia, and they always help me out. Treat them right, and your job will go so much better.

2.)  Decide to like co-workers who annoy you
Some folks are just going to annoy you. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “disliking” these folks. But liking or disliking someone is a conscious choice.  No doubt if you take a genuine interest in the folks you dislike, you will find things you have in common, and you will see them as real people, not characters.

It’s easy to dislike a character. It’s harder to dislike a real person with flaws, struggles, a family, and a life outside of the office. Note: You will have to work very hard at this if you already have an antagonistic relationship, or if your co-worker is a psychopath. You can only change yourself, so ask yourself, “What’s my part in this problem?” and work on that.

3.)  Engage in positive office gossip
It’s easy to get sucked into office gossip. Women get a bad rap for being gossips, but I find that men in the office are sometimes worse. Shut down gossip by only saying nice things about co-workers. When someone says, “Did you see how Karla screwed up that order?” say, “Wow – that’s really surprising. Karla does really great work. I’ll bet something weird happened. Have you asked her about it?” Gossip is a terrible force in the workplace. Be the one who doesn’t tolerate it. Then turn it around.

Make it a habit to start bragging on your co-workers for the excellent work they are doing. If you know of a co-worker who is struggling, find something good they’ve done and be sure to mention it to a supervisor or manager. Compliment co-workers directly when they do a good job and CC their bosses. Keep in mind – this has to be genuine praise. If you’re impressed with someone’s work, don’t keep this to yourself!

4.)  Sign up for unpleasant tasks
Have you every cleaned out the office refrigerator? What about the “Adopt a Highway” program your office signed up for? Do you bring birthday cakes or other goodies? Do you restock the supply cabinet? Clean the coffee maker? Have you ever gotten a new water bottle for the cooler? They’re heavy! Every office has a small core of workers who do all the unpleasant or undesirable work. Join them in this work. Very few folks WANT to do these things, but they are relatively easy tasks, and they genuinely help your co-workers.

5.)  Be Radically Transparent
If you say something to one person in one division, don’t keep that a secret from another division. If you notice tension between your departments and another department, don’t pretend that everything is OK. Tactfully bring it up to one of the parties at a time. (Not in a meeting!) “I noticed that there seems to be some tension between my department and accounts payable. What’s up with that? How can I help resolve it?” Then, as far as it is up to you, make that relationship better.

Navigating Work with Workplace Transparency

Speaking of transparency: don’t keep things to yourself just so you can have the power of exclusive information. If you are permitted to share information with your co-workers, (check with your boss) then be sure to share that information.

Bring everything you can out into the open. Don’t let problems fester. Talk to co-workers who seem to have a problem with you. If a co-worker is underperforming, gently ask him/her if there’s a problem. Find out how you can help. And never use information you learn from these conversations for your own gain.

One caveat to radical transparency: be careful how much you share about your personal struggles with your co-workers. You’ll know pretty quickly how trustworthy your boss or co-workers are. Be as open and transparent about yourself as you can without giving an untrustworthy person ammunition to use against you later.

If you accused me of “blowing smoke” earlier, you were probably right. These tips are not really about office politics. They’re about being a better person. But I promise you, when you are genuine about them, they will help you “win” at office politics. I really believe that nice gals and guys finish first. I hope you agree.

Do you think these tips are crazy or right on target? Let me know in the comments.


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Dan Lovejoy

Dan Lovejoy is a User Interface & Experience Architect at OG&E and a self-admitted adorable curmudgeon. The opinions here are his own and not his employer — in case you were wondering.

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