Coping with workplace politics

Office politicians can create a toxic work environment, but they don’t have to. Learn how to effectively deal with office politics.

Sydney Jones

When office policies get out of hand, it can create a toxic work environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ll break down the professional handling of office politics, regardless of the type of politics in your workplace.

What is office politics?

Merriam-Webster defines office politics as: the activities, attitudes, or conduct used to gain or retain power or advantage within a business or firm. Basically, everyone in the office is liked or disliked by other people, and these positive and negative relationships with other employees create a political culture.

Think about it. Have you ever complained to a colleague at work? Maybe you complained about another employee who didn’t do their job. Or maybe you had a question but you specifically avoided asking someone who you thought might not like you. All of these are examples of the type of office policy that is present in every workplace.

Is office politics bad?

Frankly, the word “office politics” sounds like a bad thing. If someone came up to you and said how much they love playing office politics, it probably wouldn’t make a great first impression.

The fact is, office politics is an inevitable by-product of social interaction, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Can they be a bad thing? Absolutely. This is why you want to make sure you consider how you are going to respond to office politics.

Dealing with office politics: 4 tips

How do you deal with office politics? Ramit recently interviewed a friend of his, Kevin Hillstrom, about how he has dealt with office politics in the past. Kevin is now a successful CEO, but when he was an analyst at Land’s End, he struggled with office politics.

Don’t be naive

Most people think the best way to deal with office politics is to avoid it completely. That sounds good, but it is very difficult to do in practice. After experiencing his first meeting with all executives, Kevin realized that being naive about office politics is a bad strategy. Instead, confirm the game that is being played around you. Once you realize the situation, you can choose to act in a way that protects your integrity and keeps you out of political traps.

Learn to read the room

Some people have a hard time noticing the political dynamic. In the video, you can see that Kevin Hillstrom is one of them. When giving an important presentation to a group of executives, he ignored the political dynamics between executives, which had a huge impact on how they perceived Kevin’s presentation.

Think about it. If I’m a top manager and I really don’t like Jim from Sales and Kevin’s presentation really appeals to Jim from Sales, I’m much less inclined to be convinced. But if Kevin had read the room, he could have approached any manager and convinced everyone.

Observe what other successful people are doing

While working at Land’s End, Kevin overheard his boss talk about his lack of business skills. Obviously that comment stung, but Kevin used it as a wake up call to help improve.

One of the first things he did? He began to pay attention to what successful people were doing in the office. He mentioned that one of his bosses built a reputation for always having the facts and information to make good decisions, and the people above her noticed and took care of her. Instead of just copying them, Kevin tried to build his own reputation based on his view of the world.

Building a reputation is political. But it’s not a bad thing. This is an example of how you can use office politics to advance your career without creating a toxic work environment.

Work on your communication skills

Whether or not your office is full of politics, working on your communication skills is ALWAYS helpful. Being a better communicator can help you avoid the kind of misunderstandings that fuel office drama. You can also build a reputation for yourself by communicating clearly. Communication was a major weak point for Kevin, so he took an eight-week course to learn how to convince people.

They probably don’t have to be as extreme, but improving his communication skills helped Kevin get promoted and eventually run his own business.

If you’re looking to move forward in your career and learn how to effectively navigate office politics, check out my free Ultimate Guide to Social Skills below. I’ll show you how to communicate with ease, make a great first impression, and read other people in the room. Just enter your email address below.

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