How To Deal With Office Politics Like A Pro

First it was kids being kids. Schoolyard arguments. Then it was the pressure of university. The tension of new relationships, new responsibilities.

It’s been many years, but the feeling of being left out, ignored or generally disliked still lingers.

From ten-person startups to ten thousand corporates, office politics are a common fact of work. The reality is that they aren’t specific to work – that’s where you spend most of your time.

Think of them as people politics: the negotiations and power structures that will naturally occur in any group of humans.

Ignoring it won’t make the problem go away

Whilst common knowledge says, “don’t feed the trolls,” it isn’t so easy at a workplace. Turning your back on office politics could harm your career, and closes you off to opportunities to grow and develop. We’ve got some tips on how to avoid the bad bits of office politics, whilst still benefitting from the relationships.

Analyse the playing field

At any workplace, there’s a hierarchy. A chain of command. Most companies map these out, to be included in the employee handbook. But there’s also an unofficial one. Like a coach watching the playing field, work out who is playing what role, who is best at working together. Who plays for which team, and are there any cliques or behind the scenes players.

Once you work this out, reach out and connect with someone from each group. Not only does this increase your social capital, it builds your internal network. Office politics is about power, so keeping yourself on side with many colleagues should keep you upstream from the worst of it.

Instead of cynicism, try cautious naivety

You want to build a deep network. But you don’t want to leave anyone out. Even if someone has a reputation as a terrible gossip, you shouldn’t pass them by. Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, but remain cautious. Try to keep conversation light, and carefully worded. Try and understand their motives – could they be badmouthing others as they haven’t had a chance to prove themselves?

But stay neutral

Despite what the gossip or general consensus is – never take sides. Don’t pass on rumours, and don’t get involved in any emotional confrontations. If you do have any concerns, flag them only with the appropriate people, in an objective way. Treat it almost scientifically; your emotions aren’t that relevant to the business goals.

But if a co-worker does turn to you, listen. The problem they talk about may be a symptom of something bigger they’re going through. Whilst it’s important to stay on the fence, being kind to someone in need often goes a long way.

Be like water

As Bruce Lee famously advised:

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. […] Water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Choose your reactions carefully, to each situation at hand. Don’t let past experiences cloud your judgements. Take each incident or issue as an individual moment, and don’t take it personally. The Buddhist practice of mindfulness is a great way to fine-tune this focus.

Whilst office politics may be a fact of working life, they don’t have to be a problem. Stay calm, be neutral, and don’t take it home with you.