Every office has its office politics. This is unavoidable, as people bring their unique needs, thoughts, fears, and ambitions with them to work. Everyone claims to hate office politics, yet, like the gossip mill, they continue to flourish. Office politics are the unwritten rules that determine who gets what, when, and how — a promotion, a budget for a project — and who doesn’t. We dislike office politics so much because our fate depends on these unwritten rules.
Office politics can make things seem arbitrary, rigged, and unfair, and can work to create a toxic culture but there are ways that you can successfully navigate office politics.
Don’t stir the pot. Avoid spreading rumors and unsubstantiated gossip. Office politics are a dirty game, and you don’t need to become soiled.
15 Tips for Navigating Office Politics
1. Analyze the org chart Understand who holds power, and what the reporting structure is. Then sit back and observe. Who actually has influence over major decisions? It’s not always the person at the top.
2. Examine the cliques The so-called real world has so much in common with seventh grade. As is the case in any middle school, your workplace is going to have informal groups and social cliques. Who are in these various cliques? Are these groups based on friendship, mutual interest, or something else? Which are the powerful groups and which are the powerless ones?
3.Build your network Make connections outside of your immediate team or department. Cross the boundaries and hierarchies. Don’t fear those with political power. Instead, get to know them.
4. Develop your soft skills Office politics are all about interpersonal interactions. Proceed with emotional intelligence. Self-regulate. Censor. Think before you act.
5. Be strategic You need to be brave, and not cower. Get to know the office politics by getting to know the gossips and the manipulators. Be courteous and guarded. While you should not trust them, understanding their goals can provide you great insight into what the organization values.
6. Don’t stir the pot Avoid spreading rumors and unsubstantiated gossip. Office politics are a dirty game, and you don’t need to become soiled.
7. Be assertive, but not aggressive. Couch any dissenting opinions within the context of what impact the issues have on the organization, rather than on you personally.
8. Know when to keep your mouth shut Sometimes the best course of action can be to sit back and listen, without offering anything in exchange. Particularly if you are new to the organization, you should “shut up and listen” 80% of the time.
When you disagree with someone, have a conversation, not an argument. Always frame your position within the context of the impact on the business, the team, or the organization. Avoid talking about personal slights.
9. Avoid copying people’s managers If you send emails in which you always copy the recipient’s manager, it’s going to make people regard you with suspicion. The same goes for using the BCC. The only time to use BCC is when you have an announcement to make to many people across the organization and you want to avoid the dreaded “reply all.”
10. Be boring A safe way to limit the impact of office politics on you is to be dull and not contribute.
11. Identify your role Be honest with yourself. To what degree have you immersed yourself into the office politics? Once you do that, you can work on extricating yourself.
12. Know who are the gatekeepers Focus your powers of persuasion on the right people, and on the right issues.
13. Talk it out When you disagree with someone, have a conversation, not an argument. Always frame your position within the context of the impact on the business, the team, or the organization. Avoid talking about personal slights.
14. Support others You get what you give. You need support to get your job done. You will have to give support in return.
15. Don’t vent via email Even if you delete it, email is forever. If you need to write down your frustrations, do so with pen and paper. Paper can be shredded later.
The bottom line: When we perceive that our workplace is overly political, we are less engaged and less productive. If the office politics at your workplace have made coming to work untenable, it might be time to consider moving on.
In that case, your first order of business is to craft a new resume and cover letter. In your resume, you will want to focus on your significant achievements, and you will want to be sure that you quantify those when possible.
Your cover letter should focus on your skills and achievements, and needs to demonstrate that you understand the business problems that the hiring manager is looking to solve. Keep it positive, and tell the best possible story of YOU!