Office Politics


Are you ignoring office politics at your peril?


What pops into your mind when you hear the phrase “Office Politics?”

People tend to think of office politics as negative, even distasteful. From that perspective, the ideal would be to find an organization that doesn’t have any.

But for better or for worse, every group made up of multiple human beings involves politics.

If you’re among those who see office politics as negative, you may feel coworkers who “play” them are being manipulative. Maybe you even believe you’re taking the moral high ground by avoiding them.

The truth is, if you ignore office politics you give away a lot of your potential effectiveness. And if you’re a leader who’s ignoring them, you’re abdicating responsibility for your function and your team. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who lacked internal influence, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Given that they’re unavoidable, I suggest a reframe. You can choose to think of office politics as neutral, neither positive or negative – simply the way things get done around here, if you like.

Can you tell how you’re doing with office politics? Ask yourself these questions:

  • How strong is your ability to influence others within your organization? Would you like it to be stronger?
  • Do others listen to your point of view? How could things be better if they listened more?
  • When there are disagreements, are they usually resolved to your advantage?
  • When there are conflicts over scarce resources, do you / your team usually get what you need?

Can you see how these factors could impact your effectiveness in the organization? The more effective you are, the more good you can do for more people. By engaging in office politics rather than avoiding them, you might tilt them in your favor.


Build relationships

Many hands, each with a puzzle piecThe most important thing you can do to increase your influence beyond your team is to create active, ongoing relationships. Reach out and engage others, all across the organization, but especially those you need and those who need you. Do it even when there’s no immediate problem.

You don’t have to like people to have a productive relationship at work. Healthy workplaces have healthy conflict; you can be respectful and reach a positive outcome even when you don’t agree with one another.

Continue to build relationships with important people in the future by being visible in the broader organization. Here are some ways you can increase your visibility:

  • Speak up in meetings
  • Ask for important assignments
  • Volunteer for cross-functional projects
  • Look for internal mentors who are well-connected and respected
  • Highlight others’ achievements (share credit!)


Focus on the overall good of the organization

Be informed. Know the organization’s mission, vision, goals, and objectives, so you’re always ready to identify the best path to advance them.

Chess boardThink strategically on behalf of the organization – if you’re aware of what’s going on in the competitive environment, for example, you can gain influence by showing how you are able to think ahead for the greater good. (See my article on how to improve your Strategic Thinking)

Use the greater good when you want to influence others to support your plan or resolve a conflict in the best way for all. You’ll be perceived as rational and well-intended.

Advocate for outcomes that will be mutually beneficial. Find the win-win that will appeal to everyone. Above all, demonstrate being a good team player.


Be politically astute

One of the reasons we love to hate office politics so much is that they are, by definition, unwritten rules. But be observant, and you can usually figure them out.

Watch interactions between high-powered individuals, and you’ll begin to understand the dynamics and alliances that exist. Especially watch for incidents that go badly, so you can determine where the landmines are and avoid making your own missteps.

Even the language people use can give you major clues. I once worked for a leader who had a consistent, irrationally negative reaction whenever the word “intranet” was used, even though we badly needed one. When I was urged by my peers to plead the case, I simply avoided the word completely until I’d gotten his full agreement to support the “electronic communications tool” that would solve our problems.


Turn enemies into allies

Tug of warEven when you come across someone who plays office politics to build their own ego and empire, you’re better off to engage rather than to ignore them.

To make an enemy an ally, use all the skills discussed above to figure out what they value and help them find a way to get more of it while also getting what you need for yourself or your team.

Find ways to let them know you value them and show them what you have in common.

Use reciprocity to your advantage. Always give first, before asking anything in return. When you freely give something valuable without being asked, it leaves the other person psychologically in your debt. Here are some ideas:

  • How could you fulfill a need or reduce a pain point for them?
  • What would be easy for them to reciprocate, so you can start small? (Example: showing support for each other’s initiatives in a meeting)
  • Is there a good idea you can both agree on, where you can be sure they get primary credit?

If you can navigate these tricky relationships effectively and find a path forward that will benefit everyone – especially the broader organization – you’ll become known as a skilled problem solver and mediator, increasing both your influence and your visibility even further.



Learn to use office politics (the way things get done around here) for the greater good, and watch your influence grow!

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson is an expert consultant to businesses and a powerful coach to individuals. After a long and rich career as a strategic HR executive, she is driven to give back by changing the Human Experience in today’s workplaces, one business or human at a time.

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