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Nine Strategies for Successfully Playing Office Politics

Feb. 18, 2004
Don't make the mistake of believing you can ignore or avoid office politics. Instead, learn how to navigate them with these helpful tips.

Political scientists have defined politics as the art of the possible. Employees often find coping with office politics to be an impossible art.

When I started my career, I wanted to be above office politics and do what was right because it was the right thing to do, not because I would personally gain from doing it. I abhorred the political schmoozing, positioning and strategizing that seemed necessary to advance in the work environment. So I didn't play the game. I maintained my integrity, and said what I thought was right despite who I disagreed with or offended. I also watched other people who were less competent but more politically savvy than me advance their careers while my career stalled.

Don't make the same mistake of believing that you can ignore or avoid office politics. You can't.

Whether you like playing office politics or not, it is a part of the work reality. Your success in your workplace depends upon how skillfully you play. The following strategies will help you win at office politics while still allowing you to maintain your integrity:

1. Be nice to everyone. Don't believe the "nice guys finish last" stuff. In office politics, nice guys build supportive relationships with other people. Bulldozers and sharks make enemies, and enemies make your life miserable by resisting and sabotaging you. Be sincerely nice to everyone, not just the people you think can help you. People resent phoniness.

2. Be a team player. A team player is someone who helps the team achieve its goals, and helps other people achieve their goals. Be a star by making other people look good, rather than taking credit for other people's achievements.

3. Don't whine and complain. Develop a reputation for being a problem solver. Anybody can complain about a problem. The really valuable employees are those that prevent or solve problems. Although the squeaky wheel may get oiled, its coworkers resent the whiny employee.

4. Be visible. You can't win office politics by hiding. You must be involved and others need to perceive you as a valuable contributor at work. Get involved in solving important and highly visible problems at work. In the age of downsizing, many employees are shocked to learn that they lost their jobs because upper management didn't know what they were contributing to their organization. You not only have to do good work; others must give you credit for your good work and perceive you as a good worker.

5. Help your boss succeed. This is part of being a team player. It is also a smart strategy because your boss is a major player in your promotability and in how upper management perceives you and your work. If you have a positive relationship with your boss, your boss is more likely to support your career and help you advance.

Now some of you are reeling in disgust because you hate your boss. Well, get over it. You will have a more difficult time winning office politics if you openly declare war on your boss or antagonize your boss. Remember, they probably have kept their job and power base because they know a few things about playing office politics.

You don't have to suck up to your boss, but you must nurture your relationship with your boss. If you disagree with your boss, do it privately. Be very careful, though, about embarrassing your boss in public or in front of your boss' superiors or staff. You don't want your boss trying to get even with you.

6. Be loyal. Avoid backbiting and backstabbing. Coworkers will support you if they believe that you will be there to support them. To get loyalty, show your loyalty.

7. Be good at what you do. Develop your expertise and competence. Show up on time and work hard for your full shift. To survive in the workplace, you need to do good work. If others perceive you as a slacker or a poor worker, they will not support you. They will also resent your getting promoted before them.

8. Mind your manners. Be polite and courteous. Avoid being sarcastic or putting other people down. Err on the side of being gracious.

9. Make other people look good. We already mentioned this concerning being a team player, but it bears repeating. People will support you when they believe that you make them look good. They will resent you if they believe you take credit for the work they do. Give credit to others. Sincerely compliment others. Help people look important and successful in front of the people who are important to them.

Office politics may not always be fun, but you will be more successful playing it if you follow these nine strategies.

Free stuff: For a free copy of "Seven Habits of Successful Office Politicians," fax your letterhead with your name, address, e-mail address, and the words "SUCCESSFUL OFFICE POLITICIANS" to (801) 288-9303, or e-mail the information to [email protected].

Terry Bragg runs a company called Peacemakers Training in Salt Lake City and is the author of the book 31 Days to High Self-Esteem. He works with organizations to create a workplace where people want to work, and with managers who want their people to work together better. If you want your organization or your people to have more energy, trust, respect and meaning, please contact him. Peacemakers Training, 5485 South Chaparral Drive, Murray, Utah 84123; telephone: 801-288-9303; E-mail: [email protected]; Web site: www.terrybragg.com

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