How to Navigate Office Politics

13 min read

In every company, office politics is embedded in the workplace culture. And whether you are new to the corporate world or even a few years in, learning how to navigate office politics can seem intimidating.

Office politics is a necessary aspect of the corporate world, and many professionals have used that to help position themselves for promotions and other opportunities. For example, 53% of professionals believe that office politics can help them get a promotion.

Office politics can be challenging to manage, particularly if you work from home, but it’s not impossible.

Discover how you can manage office politics like a pro and build stronger relationships with your co-workers.

What Are Office Politics?

Office politics encompasses the activities, attitudes, or behaviors used to get and keep power, or to use it as an advantage within a business or other organization. Office politics can also be about developing in-office relationships and using them to obtain and sustain power and influence in the workplace.

Office politics are part of a complex structure — a system that can be healthy, toxic or somewhere in between, with the most common example being gossip. Research suggests that 96% of people engage in workplace gossip. While gossiping is a common practice, it’s also a behavior that many professionals dislike but still seem to contribute to in some way or the other, even if inadvertently.

However, office politics is more than just gossiping about co-workers or managers — it’s also about networking, building and strengthening relationships with your colleagues.

How Office Politics Can Positively Influence Career Success

The critical points of office politics are influence and connections. It’s about improving your impact within your organization and gaining political capital. And to gain political capital means not only having the skills but also using those skills to benefit you and others around you.

Building political capital, whether with your boss, colleagues, customers, suppliers, etc., can significantly affect your career success, as you never know when relationships you’ve developed will come full circle and assist in your career advancement.

Office Politics Are Unavoidable

Office politics can be intimidating, especially for people going into the corporate world for the first time. Most people have a generalized idea of workplace politics and think they can just avoid it while building their careers. But that approach can cause more harm than good.

As complex as office politics can be, you need it in your professional life. It can help you find new opportunities for career advancement, either internally or externally, build your brand and influence, connect or collaborate with other talented professionals who share similar goals.

When used correctly, office politics can be a powerful tool that can positively affect your career and build long-lasting relationships.

How Can Human Resources Help Employees Manage Office Politics

There aren’t specific policies that address office politics in most companies, but other policies can factor into the overall company culture and influence the tone of workplace politics.

For sure, HR leaders and other leaders at your company can develop policies that specifically address and help maintain healthy office politics. Talking to HR professionals about office politics can help you navigate the ins and outs.

They can also help you learn how to address conflicts that might arise with office politics, such as being assigned tasks outside of the scope of your responsibility, employees sabotaging each other or the spread of false information that creates conflict.

Navigating Office Politics and Handling Conflict

To navigate and push through office politics, especially when you are in line to receive a promotion or want to position yourself for one, you have to understand the dynamics, learn to coexist within the system and move with intention.

Office politics are unavoidable but can also be the best tool in your professional development kit when you use it positively. Here are a few key tactics to help you become a pro at dealing with office politics.

Build Positive Relationships and Make Genuine Connections

Negativity and toxic behavior in the workplace won’t bode well for you in the long run. Misleading and developing relationships with ill intent can lead your colleagues not to trust your influence, much less jump to build relationships with you.

Office politics is about remaining professional relationships and building support within your organization so you and your colleagues can benefit — positively. You want to stay on good terms with colleagues and be a source of positivity, especially during tense moments where it’s easy to fall into negative feelings.

Connect and build relationships without an ulterior motive. Genuine in-office relationships can help you get positioned for promotion and maintain your influence, both of which help with your professional brand.

Remain Even-Handed in Tough Situations

Maintaining balance is crucial, especially with more people working from home and communication being less face to face and personal. With emails, chats and other digital tools being the primary way we communicate, it’s easy for things to be misinterpreted, leading to errors and conflict.

Miscommunication can cause a significant amount of tension within teams and yourself. Instead of adding more fuel to an already stressful situation, try objectively listening and being open to conflict resolution through solutions that help everyone. There will be situations where our initial reaction is to react quickly and fiercely, but try to remain neutral and view the situation from multiple angles.

Maintain Open Communication

Open communication is an essential element in the success of any team. You want to know that everyone is on the same page if people are concerned about a specific project, unhappy with the office environment or have some other workplace concern.

Being a strong, open communicator can reduce the risk of miscommunication and allow your colleagues to learn more about you and what you stand for. Don’t be afraid to communicate what you need from your peers, reports and managers, and ensure that you share the necessary information without sharing too much.

Keep Records of Everything

Depending on your organization’s work environment, there may be people who practice office politics by trying to take advantage of situations. They might even make a false claim to make you look like the person responsible for a mistake or unqualified for the job.

These situations often happen in workplaces that maintain negative office politics, which is, unfortunately, a norm that many people experience in toxic environments. Tracking and keeping records of work-related activities are essential actions for managing your time and succeeding in office politics. You can track exactly what you did and maintain credible information showing a clear understanding of what occurred.

Keeping records also provides you with solid evidence of your work and how you have added value to your team and organization. This proof can demonstrate your influence and put you in a better position to get that promotion.

Identify the Office Politicians

There are many tactics to help you navigate office politics, but you also need to understand the other players involved.

Each person in every organization holds a specific role in the office politics structure. Most people understand the part they play, and it’s usually a natural progression that factors into their own behaviors in the workplace. Each person contributes to the dynamics of office politics.

There are a few different archetypes that people have found in office politics, with some of the most common being the joker, the overachiever, the gossip, the coach and the credit hog.

The Office Joker

Think of this person as the class clown, but the professional version. They create a space and environment where people feel light and happy around them — telling jokes to ease tensions and uplift co-workers’ moods. Typically, employees think that jokers are easy to get along with.

In most environments, the officer joker is a friendly face, but in others, their intention isn’t always to make genuine connections with people. Some may use their jokes to damage people’s reputations or earn themselves a priority status on the team. In many cases, co-workers can be genuine jokesters and make meaningful connections.

The Office Overachiever

People who are overachievers are the ones who are the first on deck to take on more tasks, regardless of the odds that they’ll be recognized within the company.

Some overachievers, though not all, thrive on getting recognized for the extra work. These people often have their hands on the pulse for new chances to showcase their work. While some overachievers think of their personal gain over genuine connections, it doesn’t mean that they can’t make those connections.

Being an overachiever doesn’t just mean tackling new projects. It can be volunteering to go to work events, helping to organize tasks for future assignments and more.

The Office Gossip

This person is that one co-worker who somehow knows everything about what’s going on in the organization and its people, even right after something happened. Whether personal or professional, the office gossip will know what’s going on and isn’t afraid to let the whole story leak — or perhaps just tidbits of information — to their co-workers.

While many gossips mean well, it’s best to stick to talking about professional aspects of your life and only give just enough information about your personal life to remain private. Many workplaces talk about transparency, and for a good reason. There is a difference between transparency and oversharing.

The Office Coach

This co-worker always seems ready to give you advice and assist you with different scenarios that could come up during your work. These people usually are in managerial positions, so they have a unique perspective on how the workplace operates.

These coaches are that balance between leadership and employees, so they can often give objective advice to help navigate office politics while remaining somewhat impartial in the grand scheme of things. Office coaches can also give you a better sense of what leaders are looking for in new roles, promotions, etc.

The Office Credit Hog

These co-workers aren’t typically the ones you always want on your side, but they serve a purpose in the complex system. Most will classify the office credit hog as someone who will do anything to get ahead, including taking credit for projects and reports that they had little to nothing to do with.

Sometimes it can even go as far as stealing your ideas and methods and passing them off as their own when presenting them to the rest of the team. When dealing with the office credit hog, keeping detailed records will help keep the peace with this type of office politician.

Office politics is a part of the working world and plays a significant role in your career and efforts to get ahead. Take the time to learn how to navigate office politics, build your political capital and position yourself to get that promotion.

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