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< Back Career Advice

Cutting through office politics

Matt Tarpey | November 3, 2014


We spoke with some career experts on how best to deal with office politics.

Halloween has come and gone, and as we all slowly recover from our sugar hangovers, it’s already time for the next big holiday: Election Day! They may just be midterms, but they’ve been as hard-fought as the American people have come to expect. And while we may have become used to the aggressive tactics employed by our political figures, many workers are frustrated to find those same trends appearing in their offices.

We spoke with some career experts on how best to deal with office politics. Their tips include:

Understand the system

It’s nearly impossible to completely avoid office politics. Whether you’re directly involved in them or not, the power dynamics of an office setting are likely to influence you at some point. That’s why it’s important to have at least a general understanding of the political landscape within your office.

“Study power – know how it works,” says Ann Vanino, career coach and founder of Moving Forward Coaching & Consulting. “Try to discern people's agendas at work, so that you can navigate honestly and effectively, in your own interest.” You don’t necessarily have to be an active player to benefit from a general understanding of how your office politics work. You may gain insight into how decisions are made, how well individuals work together and other helpful information.

But be careful. Dipping your toes into the world of office politics can be a slippery slope. “Do not lose your focus on performance and excelling at your work by getting too engrossed in office politics,” Vanino adds.

Speak with actions

The best way to cut through office politics is to produce quality work. A good manager will notice employees who reliably turn in good work. If you’re worried that’s not the case in your office, focus on work with quantifiable results. Nothing cuts through office politics quite like verifiable data.

“Know who you are and what you can do, then work the heck out of those skills to be the very best you that you can be,” says Carrie Aulenbacher, executive secretary for Lake Erie Logistics. “Solid work speaks for itself and it's hard for politics to out-work a determined employee.”

Avoid gossip

Joking around and chatting with your co-workers is a great way to improve morale and build team chemistry, but when conversation veers toward gossip about co-workers, the affects do a complete 180. Gossip is exclusionary by nature and undermines trust, a crucial ingredient to an effective team.

“Just because everyone around you is gossiping, doesn’t mean you have to join in on it,” says Lou Solomon, founder and CEO of Interact, a leadership communication consultancy. “You don’t need to chime in and feed that chatter; rather, stick to topics that speak to your character, build up the workplace culture, company and are positive.”

Shoot straight

Clear and open communication is one of the most common core values businesses are built around. Put it into practice – and thereby on display to your colleagues and boss – by being upfront and honest with your co-workers.

“Be authentic and kind to everyone,” Solomon adds. “It may seem tempting to be extra nice to particular people that may help pave the way for you, but it’s important to be authentic, respectful and very pleasant to everyone in your organization. Not only can unexpected staffing changes can happen, these characteristics will reflect [that] you are a steady person to work with and aren’t self-serving with your own agenda.”

By actively avoiding harmful gossip, treating everyone in the office with respect and keeping your focus on maintaining a high level of work, you can gain a reputation as someone of integrity and moral fortitude.