How to Navigate Office Politics

career development personal branding women and work Sep 21, 2021
A woman in a car is smiling and touching her glasses. The text next to it reads, how to navigate office politics

How to Navigate Office Politics

The office you are a part of will have a corporate culture and politics that are unique to itself. Throughout your professional career, you will likely experience a variety of people and have to navigate office politics.


Office politics can be stressful, but when you are equipped to succeed, it can be manageable. Here’s what I want you to know about office politics. 


If you avoid it, you will limit your career.

Often with good intentions, like the idea that you want to rise above the drama or avoid hurting someone’s feelings, people say they avoid office politics. Let’s first recognize that there are two distinct categories: negative office politics and positive office politics. 


Negative office politics includes drama, gossiping about co-workers and speculating about company activities. It’s also associated with underhanded tactics or playing dirty to get ahead. These things certainly exist but let’s be clear: it is not worth your time! Engaging in it has the potential to be very damaging to your personal brand. 


The positive in all this! Let’s look at positive office politics as unofficial ways of getting business done. Official business happens in meetings that all required stakeholders are part of and that are often recorded in some official way (think follow up emails or meeting minutes). The reality is that oftentimes, people arrive at these official meetings with a clear idea of what they’ll say and do (maybe some of them even met prior to it). 


Other examples of more neutral office politics happen when someone has more authority or influence than what you’d expect from the organizational chart. Without knowing the reasons why it’s easy to assume this person is manipulating someone to get what they want. It could be that this person has great relationships in the company and is trusted by many so their opinion is relied upon. This is what I want us to consider positive “politics” and by avoiding them you miss out on important conversations. 


Trust is more important than the who and what.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in my career is that trust is paramount. One of my most shared posts on LinkedIn states: It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s who trusts you.


When people trust you, they trust in your ability to deliver. As a result, people are more accepting of your ideas. This is commonly confused for politics. When viewed through the lens of negative politics, people see the boss accept someone’s ideas and think: she’s the boss’s pet or she’s always in the boss’s office sucking up. Or worse: she must’ve put someone else down in order to get her ideas pushed through.


What’s actually happened here is the result of trust. And strong relationships are crucial to getting people to trust you, which leads to them liking your ideas, letting you do something important and bringing forward a new way of doing something. 


Learn from those who play!

When you are involved in office politics, you have the opportunity to learn. Learn how big decisions are really made and how to influence the people around you. Look for the players you admire and really pay attention. What are they doing in terms of official and unofficial business? The unofficial activities are harder to spot, so work toward building a relationship with them. When they trust you, they’re more likely to include you in these activities. 


Office politics, the good or the bad, are specific to each company and industry. When you contribute to the politics of the office, you can better observe and learn what others are doing. This means you can gauge responses, see what is working, and what isn’t working. This will allow you to become more comfortable with office politics, and ready to engage in them when needed.


Office politics are part of the workplace. It’s best to understand the times where it can be positive and be equipped to handle it. If you want to learn more, reach out to Kristen!

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