Regardless of the industry you’re in, you’ll encounter some form of office politics at some point in your career — whether it’s the sneaky boss who goes out of their way to make your life a living nightmare or the backstabbing coworker who steals your ideas and tries to throw you under the bus at any given occasion.
You may also be faced with a company culture that simply doesn’t align with your own values or even a list of pathetic rules that grates your patience day in and day out.
Office politics can be a real struggle — sometimes forcing people to pack up and quit without thinking twice. So, what can you do to handle the drama and survive the corporate world?
Our guide will walk you through the nuances of office politics and equip with tips that will allow you to succeed in the workplace!
What are office politics?
Each company has its own dynamics and unique social structure created by the people within that organisation.
Office politics are often the result of the actions, behaviors and attitudes of employees as they strive to attain or maintain power and authority within the workplace. This is a phenomenon within every organization, especially as individuals seek to have more influence within a team, department or company board.
Indeed, as we progress within our careers, it’s natural that we seek to have more power and autonomy in the work we do. Office politics, then, can determine who has power and influence within an organization and can maintain existing hierarchies and social structures. When handled correctly, it can help to sustain healthy dynamics within a company.
That said, office politics can also have negative repercussions, leading to tension, disagreements and communication breakdowns caused by the exploitation and mishandling of authority by those in charge, but also those trying to increase their power and get ahead.
Types of office politicians
There are different types of office politicians in every company who can create conflict and abuse their power for their personal agenda. Knowing how to recognize them will help you be more mindful around them and of their intentions.
1. The one who gossips
Office gossip may seem harmless at first, but it can quickly spiral out of control and have severe effects on others. Gossipers often spread false information that can harm people’s reputation and standing within a company, and in some severe cases, damage their career.
2. The office bully
Bullying should never be tolerated, be it in a professional environment or beyond. Unfortunately, office bullies are prevalent in today’s workplace. The telltale signs of a bully include threatening, hindering, dominating and harassing people in an attempt to claim power over others.
3. The social climber
We all want to climb the career ladder to the top, but social climbers often manipulate and exploit others to gain status and authority. They may also treat others who may be less experienced or new at the office as ‘’beneath’’ them since they cannot further their bid to gain more power.
4. The credit thief
We are all too familiar with credit thieves in the workplace. They usually operate by passing off others’ ideas as their own and receiving praise and recognition for them. Essentially, they strive to advance in the office by using other people’s work.
5. The lobbyist
Lobbyists always have a plan they are working towards. Their main goal is to attempt to influence those with more power than them and use their own power over others to meet the objectives of their personal agenda.
Ways to deal with office politics
Office politics are unavoidable, at the end of the day. Follow these tips and advice to navigate yourself around the office politics in your workplace.
1. Develop your network
Networking at work is one of the best ways to build a reputation for yourself and get recognized for your good work. You may initially think that you don’t need to communicate with colleagues outside your immediate circle at work, but to succeed in the workplace, you’ll need to know people in the business that you can turn to in a time of need — and that often means forming genuine relationships with people in other departments. This will also make it easier for you to move around the organization when new and interesting opportunities arise.
2. Get to grips with company culture
Do you know what the core values are at your organization? If not, it’s time you got to grips with the company culture!
In other words, you need to discover what’s valued the most — is it hard work? Or, as silly as it may sound, is it the amount of time you spend at work each day? By being aware of how the company operates, you can base your actions on those motives to make sure you bag the next promotion and advance your career.
3. Avoid gossiping
It’s easy to fall into the trap of gossiping at work and trashing your coworker that’s beginning to grate on your last nerve, but speaking negatively about another colleague is going to do more damage than good — even if it is just that once. Nick Bailey, founder of Complex Ventures, advises that “when someone instigates a conversation where you would be inclined to b*tch about another coworker and you don't take the bait, you send a very strong message that you can be trusted in the other direction, too.” So next time you go to badmouth your annoying work pal, think about the repercussions it may have if it backfires and reaches the boss’s ears.
4. Manage conflict effectively
If you’re caught in the middle of a conflict, it’s important to defuse the situation as soon as possible and not side with either of the parties involved. Remain empathetic to your colleagues but be sure to not give them any ammunition to drag you into their problem — your words can easily be twisted in the workplace and you’ll soon find yourself stuck in the middle of a feud that wasn’t your own to begin with.
5. Learn how to promote yourself
I know it might seem weird to blow your own trumpet, especially when you lean towards the introverted side, but in the workplace, it’s easy to go unnoticed if you’re quiet and you keep your head down. However, you must tread carefully here, as there is a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance. If you try to divert every conversation back to your own achievements, you’ll most likely rub your colleagues and your boss up the wrong way.
6. Seize new opportunities
A good way to avoid office politics is to always be busy, and in order to always be busy, you need to look for opportunities that are outside your normal job description. If you keep taking on tasks that aren’t in your day-to-day duties, for example, you’ll have a bigger chance of being promoted. Remember: the more you do for the company, the more likely your employer will invest in you and your future with them.
7. Find a mentor
By developing a relationship with a mentor in the office, you’ll be better equipped to deal with office politics. Your mentor will have been there and done that and so will be able to offer you solid and useful advice. They’ll be able to tell you how things are done and where they themselves have gone wrong in the past to help avoid falling into the same traps.
8. Listen and observe
Being a good listener is a difficult skill that many workers don’t perfect. People often forget that taking criticism isn’t always bad, and if you take the time to listen, you’ll be able to learn faster and advance in your career.
It’s also important to observe how the key players in the company act and move. I’m not advising that you mimic their actions, but rather that you pay attention to how they work, as you may choose to develop similar working patterns.
9. Watch your back
If you’re a recent graduate, you’ll go into a new job trusting everyone that crosses your path, but sometimes, colleagues can betray your trust to make themselves look better or to make sure that you don’t have a shot at advancing before them.
Therefore, it’s important to observe people’s behavior and assess their personalities before sharing personal thoughts and information. Be sure that you’ve developed a good bond with them first, otherwise your trusting nature can turn around and bite you in the behind.
10. Be nice to everyone
Although you shouldn’t trust everyone you meet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be hostile towards them. So, if someone is intentionally nasty to you or you simply don’t like them, it’s vital to always be pleasant toward them. Now, I’m not telling you to become besties with them and be super fake — I’m just saying that you shouldn’t give anyone a reason to badmouth you, especially in the workplace.
11. Avoid power-hungry people
Fighting fire with fire is not going to get you anywhere in life, so if you have a power-hungry colleague who won’t stop until every last person has been taken down, it’s best to avoid them at all costs. Don’t fall prey to their tricks and be sure to steer clear of them.
If you’re forced to work with them, make them feel like their ideas are valued so they don’t double-cross you further down the line. Indeed, if you get into a disagreement with them with all guns blazing, you’ll only end up giving them a reason to criticize you.
12. Confront political game-players
On the other hand, if you notice that a game-player has an issue with you, you should pull them aside and quietly confront them about it. You could say something like: “I keep getting the feeling that you’re annoyed with me. Is there something that I’m doing wrong?”
If they pretend like everything is fine but still continue to act in the same way, you may have no other option than to report them to your boss or the HR department.
13. Be helpful
Whether it’s the new intern or your boss that’s asking for your assistance, make sure you’re always able to offer a helpful hand. Remember: if you always share your knowledge with others, you’ll never be jobless. Instead, you’ll be a useful source for any employer.
Teaching others your skills won’t mean that they will advance before you. On the contrary, it will merely show that you’re eager to make the team the best that it can possibly be, which is a prime example of great leadership skills.
14. Document your time
When you’re subject to your boss’s or colleagues’ political tactics, it’s important not to retaliate. Instead, you should document your work, time and any conversations with this person. There should be physical proof of what you have achieved in your working hours, which should clearly demonstrate your work ethic. If you happen to get called in for a meeting, meanwhile, take advantage of the situation and show your productivity and protect your reputation.
15. Know your goals
Set your career goals and stay focused on your objectives without letting office politics lead you astray. You should frequently ask yourself if your behavior lines up with your goals. If not, you know that you should readjust your attitude, turn over a new leaf and concentrate on what you want to achieve.
16. Don’t let it affect your personal life
Office politics can easily leak into your personal life if you let it. We’ve all been there: an irritating colleague has wound us up by trying to throw us under the bus. We then go home in a bad mood and take it out on whoever or whatever is in front of us (because you can’t give the culprit a piece of your mind). It’s important to leave your problems at the door when you leave for the day and not take it out on those you care about the most.
Office politics can quickly turn a calm working environment into a rendition of The Hunger Games, but it’s important to stay focused on your personal goals and remain positive. That way, you can climb up the ladder quietly, while you let your power-hungry colleagues fight it out.
Start a discussion! Have you ever been involved in an office politics saga? If so, let us know how you handled it in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 28 May 2018 and contains contributions by staff writer Melina Theodorou.