COMPANY CULTURE / JUN. 22, 2014
version 6, draft 6

Workplace Survival Handbook — Office Politics

The most beneficial and helpful things in life tend to have a dark side to them, and it doesn't take an Einstein intellect to know what I'm talking about.

Just look at humor, sex, politics and every past relationship you've been in.

Many good things become twisted over time, and devolve into socially restricted areas of interest, and that just makes things worse. An infected wound left hidden and ignored will only continue to rot.

The rotting wound I'm talking about right now is workplace politics.

It's become a festering sort of topic, an "untouchable" — but you need to know about it. Not just the good things, but the gray and black areas as well.

Are the following methods good or bad? I'll let you be the judge of that. Just keep in mind that even the worst political means to an end should be studied closely, not for personal use, but for awareness:

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

Everyone knows this. But nobody does it. It's simple common sense that apparently isn't so common after all — the more you know about the people that oppose you, the greater your advantage. If they're spreading gossip about you, you'll hear it. When they talk about a new idea to gain control, you'll notice. Befriend those that despise you the most.

Never take the Spotlight

The only time it's safe to take the spotlight is when the spotlight is turned to you organically. You know what I'm talking about — bragging about how awesome you are is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. The boss complimenting you publicly for saving the company money is organic attention. Attention that should returned with a humble smile and thank you. Hogging the spotlight instills jealousy.

Trust Everybody Who Deserves to be Trusted (No one)

It's a harsh thing, but sometimes life is. Especially in the workplace. Money has a way of bringing out the worst in people. If your best friend at work has to sell you out for a raise... Let's just say it's better to keep sensitive issues to yourself — no need to test loyalty if you don't have to — it might just let you down. Keep your plans to yourself. There's a reason nobody talks about office politics — if they do, they're idiots. Have a plan, and continually strategize, but keep it to yourself.

Reputation is More Important Than Your Salary

Many people make the mistake of working less when they get paid salary. The logic goes something like this: "I'll get paid the same regardless, so why work harder? They'll tack on extra hours eventually anyways." That second part is true, that's why companies usually prefer salary, so they can suck more work out of you while paying you the same as before. But it doesn't matter whether or not it's fair. It's business and business is very much like war. Most higher ups maintain a very lose code of morality, and saying "it's just not fair" holds a similar amount of effectiveness as crying and sucking your thumb for attention. Keep your reputation strong at all costs, including your salary.

Stop Talking so Much

It's simple. The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something stupid. So stop talking so much — chatting during slow hours should only be done as needed — to gain support and maintain overall charisma, and only do it when leadership is not around, or if they initiate the conversation to begin with. 

Find a Way to Make Important People Dependent on You

Taking on extra tasks can be a pain, but it will always pay off down the road. Before you offer to work extra to help your boss or someone over you, make sure you're competant in that area. If you are, casually mention that you wouldn't mind helping out — sure you might have to work overtime, or even in your off-time, but the more people become dependent on you, the more valuable you become.

Never Isolate Yourself

In light of the advice above, I feel compelled to add this. There's two forms of isolation you need to avoid. First is billet isolation — if you make yourself so valuable in one capacity that the leadership dependent on you can't promote you, you've made a mistake. You've isolated yourself to that billet. As you take on new responsibilities, do your best to hand them down to people below you, so when talk of promotion comes up, you can say you've trained someone who is just as competent as you in all of your current responsibilities.

The other form of isolation is social isolation. No man or woman is an island. Just because you can't trust anybody doesn't mean you can't be friends/allies with them. You need people who talk well about you when you're not around — follow the Golden Rule, building them up in front of others — and you'll get exactly that.

Final Thoughts

This is, of course, only a small handful of helpful workplace politics advice. If you feel so inclined, study the subject in more depth by reading books like The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, and The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli.

Being informed never hurt anybody — take what you learn and use it responsibly.

 

Notes

Photo from J.M. Domingo: Image Source

 

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