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Office Politics? How to Survive and Thrive


Office politics are like a dirty word. We say it while cringing and it’s usually accompanied by a barely perceptible eye roll. Often, when people are asked how they describe office politics, the first word that comes to mind is painful. Oh, and stressful. Not to mention nasty…

Quick! Office Politics… what word pops up for you?

Last week, we had someone I didn’t know well over for dinner, and when I asked him about work, he said, “It’s good. It’s just the office politics. You know.” Well, we don’t work for the same organization, but in truth, I did know – no elaboration necessary. 

It’s not something new to hear that the worst part of working for a company is the politics. When I’ve worked with coaching clients on how to survive office politics, we focus on what’s in their control and understanding the culture. Wishing it was different (and complaining about it) doesn’t make it so. Most telling is that the majority of those clients don’t want to leave their org and like a lot about their jobs, they just want things to get better. 

Tired of Office Politics? 

Like your job and your company but just wish the politics would disappear? It’s unlikely. Instead of getting sucked in or smothered, here are 11 better ways forward. 

Don’t Remain Heads Down (if I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist)

Yes, it’s a good thing to be a focused hard worker. No, it’s not a good thing to tell yourself that all you have to do is stay heads down, do good work and turn a blind eye to the politics swirling around you. It’s the same as wishing, it doesn’t create a positive change

Stop Testing the Waters – do you agree with me?

Some people will throw out breadcrumbs and see if you pick them up. You don’t have to raise your hand, but maybe you’re the one doing the throwing. “Did you see what so and so did?” Instead of throwing or taking the bait, stop. Negative gossiping and positioning aren’t helping. 

Related: Making the Hard Choice Between Pain and Persistence

Related: How to Be More Creative, Innovative and Confident

Make Friends With People You Like and Respect 

You don’t have to ingratiate yourself to the office bully to survive office politics. Surround yourself with people who are good, kind, respectful and embody the qualities you value and want to see more of in your office culture. 

Avoid Taking Sides (and don’t take all sides)

Like the breadcrumb throwers, avoid being an all-around kiss ass. Out to lunch with Joe, Jane stinks. With Jane? You guessed it… Joe is awful and has terrible ideas. You can have opinions and share them without your primary goal being perceived (and often dishonest) alignment. In fact, having ideas and sharing your insights are essential to enabling your personal leadership to shine. Also, remember, Joe and Jane will talk eventually…

Live the Golden Rule 

We all know “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s good advice. When you see someone getting thrown under the bus, will you let it happen or make another choice? Will you slam a colleague’s work to make yourself look better? Your actions influence the culture. Define your ideal org culture and live and work towards that vision. You can’t control others, but you can control your words and actions. 

Be Visible

When you work with integrity, develop positive relationships, notice and acknowledge good work from others, and thoughtfully contribute to team success, that’s visibility that matters. When you’re visible with your good work and positive leadership, it’s a heck of a lot harder to drag your name through the mud. You’re also being a role model for others to follow.

Understand the Politics

How do you get promoted? Get assigned to a cool committee that will give your career a boost? What are the hours that most people keep? All of these pieces of information create a picture of how to thrive in your workplace. It’s also a great starting point for change. Nothing can shift until you understand the baseline.

Phone a Friend

It’s not a good idea to complain incessantly to your colleagues about all of the horrible things and gross politicking happening at work. Have a trusted advisor outside of work… coach, spouse, friend, mentor. Someone who will listen when you need to complain and help remind you of who you are and who you want to be… even when things are ugly. 

Cultivate Champions

Office politics isn’t the workplace equivalent of mud wrestling. Part of positive politics is actively cultivating your champions. Take the time to develop relationships, identify mentors and support other’s success. Again, doing good work is great but make sure that your champions know what you’re up to and can sing your praises when you’re not in the room. 

Learn to Build Relationships and Create Support

When you have a great idea, engage in positive politics. Talk to stakeholders, understand their concerns and gain support up and down the ladder (and sideways too!). Don’t hang your hat on a single meeting and a single person shutting you down. Do your legwork before you share formally.

Take a Vacation

Step away to refresh, recharge and reenergize. It’s easy for things to grow until they feel like a mountain you can never climb. Time away gives you the power of a fresh perspective. Don’t worry about what will happen or what you’ll miss while you’re away, it will be OK. You have the PTO time, use it

Recently, someone told me that office politics makes them feel like they could lose control of their destiny and there’s nothing that they can do about it. That’s definitely a defeatist attitude. Instead of being smothered by something you can’t control, find those things you can. No need to hide or tiptoe. Want your office culture to change? Start with leading the way.

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