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How to navigate office politics no matter where you work

October 29, 2021 - 18 min read

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What are office politics?

6 tips to get better at office politics

5 ways to change bad office politics

7 types of office politicians

How to get through office politics

Politics are often a taboo topic as people try to avoid team conflict. But that doesn’t mean they don’t crop up at work.

But what are workplace politics?  

In their simplest form, office politics are about the differences between people at work. These can be differences in opinions, personalities, authority, or power.

Although workplace politics can be difficult to navigate, they’re an inevitable part of any organization. But when negative office politics begin to fester, your organization can suffer.

Here’s how to survive company politics and turn negative politics into a positive workplace culture.

What are office politics?

Office politics refers to the complex social structure of a workplace. It involves employees using their authority, power, and delegation for their personal agenda.

Within the microcosm of any organization, everyone plays a different role. Whether you realize it or not, company politics determine who has power and influence.

two-friends-talking-at-their-workplace-office-politics

At the best of times, office politics holds together a workforce. All organizations need structure, and office politics can provide it in a healthy and sustainable way. It can push the company forward with social capital.

At the worst of times, those in power wield their authority over others. This can cause contempt and resistance within the workplace.

The trick is to make sure that the structures in play are for the greater good of everyone. Not just those at the top of the hierarchy.

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6 tips to get better at office politics

No matter what your position is in the office, nobody can avoid corporate politics. They are a fact of life.

You may find the concept intimidating. But learning how to navigate office politics can help you maintain some personal power. All while gaining a better understanding of the system you work in.

Business politics are largely centered on social dynamics:

  • How you interact with others 
  • Who you interact with
  • When to pick your battles

Whether you enjoy partaking in office politics or not, they’re an inescapable part of work. Even though they can take on a life of their own, they don't have to can be negative. The flow of information, power, and influence in the workplace can be put to good use, to benefit yourself and others, when the time is right.

Let’s look at some tips for how you can get better at office politics.

1. Understand formal and informal networks

There are two main network subdivisions in business politics: formal and informal.

The formal network refers to the job title or official position of authority, such as CEO, manager, or intern.

The informal network is the subtle but relevant positions of power employees may hold behind the scenes.

Understanding both will help you learn how to handle each network.

2. Build positive work relationships

It’s much easier to cope with corporate politics when you have strong, positive relationships with those around you. Loyalty and friendship can take you far.

colleagues-building-positive-relationships-office-politics

In the game of social politics, you want to build up a support network that benefits both yourself and others within it. That way, you can relax in the knowledge that you have social strings to pull on if you find yourself in a rut.

3. Keep it professional

It’s important to be friendly with your colleagues to build a sense of belonging at work. But there’s a fine line between being sociable and oversharing. Giving away too much information about yourself may cause others to use it against you in the future.

Unless you have good reason to, try to maintain a friendly but professional stance at work. Setting boundaries with your colleagues creates clear work structures. It also prevents your colleagues from taking advantage of you.

4. Develop your soft skills

Soft skills are essentially nuanced social skills. Things like listening well, being a team player, and communicating in a healthy way are all important skills to have in the workplace.

Upskilling yourself with emotional intelligence and other interpersonal skills will enable you to navigate your way around office politics with more savvy.

5. Speak up for yourself

It can be difficult to be brave and make your voice heard. But knowing when and how to stand up for yourself is an excellent skill to have.

Speaking up when you or someone you know is being unfairly treated will show your strength. Plus, it will give office bullies less inclination to pick on you.

6. Maintain a positive outlook

Everyone has bad days, but nobody likes an office downer.

Working long hours can be grueling and exhausting, both mentally exhausting and physically exhausting. But complaining about your problems in a non-constructive way can be distracting for others.

Maintaining a positive disposition in the workplace could increase your likeability. It will also make it easier for you to collaborate with colleagues.

5 ways to change bad office politics

Bad office politics start to happen when people in positions of power wield their influence over others for personal gain. Backstabbing, gaslighting at work, and unhealthy cliques are all too common in office life.

Unfortunately, many authoritative figures use their positions to bully or manipulate others. This pollutes the workplace dynamic with toxicity.

It's important to learn how to identify and manage bad office politics. This will help you cultivate a stronger position within the workplace. It will also allow you to help others in times of need.

Let’s look at five ways you can help change bad politics in your office.

1. Create a positive company culture

Company culture is the foundation of a functional, happy workplace.

Developing a positive company culture fosters work motivation and healthy employee engagement. It also builds a sense of pride and value in one’s company role.

Organizations can create a positive culture by anticipating and caring for employee needs, as well as providing employees with equal opportunities to grow.

A positive work environment promotes good office politics, while it prevents bad intentions from taking hold of vulnerable employees.

2. Encourage positive, open communication

Promoting positive, open communication is an important part of healthy business politics.

For everyone to feel as though they are being treated fairly and with respect, communication lines need to be clear.

Healthy communication eliminates the potential for misinformation to spread. This reduces the chance of conflict arising.

Communication also helps to build trust amongst colleagues. This further builds positive social networks and good employee relations.

3. Keep the focus on team goals

Cooperation and teamwork form a significant chunk of healthy corporate politics.

Keep the focus on promoting team activities and getting everyone excited about your company’s goals. This way, you can weed out toxic dynamics and boost workplace morale at the same time.

team-members-working-together-on-a-project-office-politics

Focusing on the here and now certainly has its place. But encouraging employees to look further than today will ignite team spirit. In turn, this can decrease the chance of unnecessary conflict.

4. Assess your company structure

Though companies are not always aware of it, there may be an unhealthy hierarchy at play. This hierarchy can make those at the bottom feel dictated to and unheard.

Your company could have a top-down or bottom-up workplace structure. Regardless, regular assessment of your business’ structure is important.

As new managers and bosses come and go, management approaches are bound to change. Performing a company structure assessment can mean a necessary shift in the way things are run.

5. Reward the right people

Playing favorites is a dangerous game in the workplace. Jealousy sprouts from every corner when employees feel they are being overlooked. Favoritism breeds contempt amongst any workforce.

Incentivizing productivity with rewards is a great strategy. But those with reward power delegating the recognition need to ensure personal agendas or emotions do not skew their judgment.

While maintaining a sense of fairness, leaders should aim to disperse their praise as equally as possible amongst employees and have specific criteria for when rewards are given.

7 types of office politicians

Aside from official titles and positions, there are subtle yet distinguished roles that get played out in office politics.

Roles such as the gossiper, bully, or adviser may not always be obvious. Yet, most of them can be found in just about any office or organization.

These office politician types all bring something new into the equation. But unfortunately, what they bring is not always positive.

This is a list of various office politician types who abuse their power, intentionally cause conflict, or use their position as leverage to get what they want.

1. Gossiper

Office gossips are people who love to talk about others, often in a nasty or underhanded way.

People who gossip do not always intend to cause harm. But spreading other people’s personal information can cause hurt feelings or reputational damage.

 two-collegues-gossiping-at-their-desks-office-politics

If you have an office gossip in your work environment, try to discourage conversations with them about others’ personal lives. Especially if the person you’re discussing is not present.  

2. Bully

Corporate politics often involve an office bully. Bullies can be found everywhere in life, and corporate environments are no exception.

In fact, workplace bullying is on the rise. Learning how to deal with them is a useful life skill for both in and out of the office.

A workplace bully acts at the expense of others. They might threaten their team members, interfere with their productivity, or use social influence to cause division among employees.

Bullies can come in many different shapes and sizes. The negative effects of their behavior can range from being mildly annoying to seriously harmful to their colleagues’ well-being.

3. Climber

Climbers, also referred to as social climbers, use the people around them to gain status and social power within the workplace or in life.

Social climbers are never satisfied with their current position. They exploit their relationships with others in pursuit of power.

In business politics, social climbers can be found tactically bonding with authoritative figures, such as managers and stakeholders. Social climbers ignore or avoid those they perceive as “beneath” them.

4. Adviser

The role of an adviser is to interpret data or relevant information. They then use this information to help authoritative figures make important decisions.

Often materializing in the form of a manager or assistant, advisers form a significant part of the office politics ecosystem. Advisers hold a lot of power as they have the position to use influencing tactics on those with more control than them.

A bad adviser will use that influence for exploitation or personal gain. While a good adviser will always aim to endorse decisions that benefit the greater good.

5. Credit thief

Credit thieves are people that steal recognition or praise for another person’s work while passing it off as their own.

Credit thieves do not believe in placing credit where it is due. Instead, they take advantage of timid colleagues that won’t speak up for themselves if someone else claims recognition for their hard work.

6. Saboteur

A saboteur is someone who uses sabotage as a method for maintaining power within the workplace.

They may try to derail someone else’s project to make their own appear better. Or use underhanded tactics to ensure they are in competition with no one.

It can be difficult at times to expose a saboteur’s schemes. But employees should always feel comfortable reporting behavior of this kind.

7. Lobbyist

A lobbyist is a person who makes organized attempts at persuading those in high positions of power. Lobbyists always have an agenda. They use their influence to sway others in favor of it.

colleague-persuading-his-peers-at-work-office-politics

No system of corporate politics is complete without a lobbyist. This is why it’s so important for them to be identified before damage is done.

How to get through office politics

Navigating the political landscape at work might seem like a daunting challenge. But a lot of it involves tapping into basic social instincts that we all have in some way or another.

That being said, social instincts are not everyone’s strong point. Learning how to cope in the corporate jungle puts everyone to the test.

Office politics are an unavoidable aspect of any work environment. Despite the potential for self-serving exploitation, there are healthy ways to manage them. You just have to know how.

Get in touch with a BetterUp coach. They can help you learn the right tools for tackling office politics, as well as many other complex parts of running an organization.

It's time to uplift your company and propel individual performance and well-being.

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Published October 29, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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