• Office politics are an unavoidable part of work
  • Get involved in politics when you’ve got a stake in the matter
  • Be smart and play good politics to win in the end
You know that Emily has got the information you need and that she can complete your request, but she hasn’t been responsive to your follow-ups for some reason.

While Emily isn’t exactly your work BFF, you do get along with her really well and the both of you work well together. So, it’s surprising that she hasn’t been returning any of your emails.

You finally get a chance to talk with her live over the phone. And that’s when the truth comes out.

Emily’s manager, who’s a bit of a control freak boss, told her to not provide the information you need and to hold off on any further action until told otherwise.

WTF, right?

You can’t understand why her boss is doing this. It’s not like you’ve done anything to piss them off either - at least as far as you know.

There’s something going on between your boss and Emily’s boss. You know that they don’t get along sometimes. So, it’s likely that something happened recently and now the working relationship has soured.

You need the information from Emily and her help on completing a task in order for you to get to the next key milestone for your project. Getting what you need from unresponsive coworkers is a pain in the ass, but when it’s because of politics, it’s frustrating as fuck.

So, now the question is, do you get involved with the politics of the situation or not?

Office Politics Is Part Of Work Life

Most everyone will tell you to stay out of office politics and that getting involved will only create more problems and stress in your life.

However, as much as you’d like to stay out of it, it’s an unavoidable part of work life. It’s just like how pre-meetings suck but are necessary evils.

We’re here to tell you that avoiding office politics is impossible. You’ve gotta play the game when needed, even when you don’t want to. It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to get ugly though.

Also, there’s a lot of petty bullshit in office politics. That’s the stuff you need to avoid.

You want a little chuckle?

Check out this 2-minute news parody about how young office workers don’t get involved in office politics.

VIDEO: Study Finds Youth Don’t Follow Office Politics
YOUTUBE: The Onion
LENGTH: 2:23
The bottom line is that you need to get involved in your office politics when it is something significant and relevant to what you do.

However, you need to be able to navigate office politics without all the drama. And, to do so, you’ve gotta know the difference between good and bad office politics.

Good Politics vs Bad Politics

It’s not surprising that when people see and/or experience office politics at their office, they often become less engaged, demotivated and not as productive. In fact, when it gets bad, it makes you wanna quit your job.

This is especially true when it comes to bad politics.

Bad politics is easy to spot. It’s mainly driven by harmful motivations. It’s about being sneaky, maybe even Machiavellian. A lot of times, the actions are morally questionable because the goal is to screw someone over for personal gain.

It’s very much like the office backstabbers that talk trash about everyone in the office so that they look good. All they do is throw people under the bus whenever they get the chance.

On the other hand, good politics (yes, it does exist!) is all about getting the things you need to move ahead (or get promoted) while also helping out others too.

It’s like figuring out a way to get that small tactical win for your project while also helping out another coworker or their boss get theirs at the same time. It’s the win-win thing.

Or, having your input, perspectives and ideas taken seriously and getting the recognition you fucking deserve.

As long as it also serves a higher positive purpose, there’s nothing wrong with playing good politics so that you can advance your own interests and get more shit done.

How To Play Office Politics The Smart Way

The game of office politics has no formal rules. But, believe it or not, there are referees out there and if you get caught with any kind of foul play then you’ll get slapped with a penalty for sure. And then, your personal brand takes a hit.

The main thing here is to not be an office asshole but at the same time, don’t be a shy pushover either. You have to stand your ground, defend yourself and be strong enough to ask for the things you need.

If you do this right, it can really put you on a path to more productivity, job satisfaction and happiness. In fact, this academic study, shows that people that are good at office politics have improved performance, influence and leadership advancement.

Like any sport, you can’t just jump into it right away. You need to get familiar with how things work. If you enter the game at the pro level, you’ll get crushed. You have to start out small at the novice level and work your way up.

Here are some key tips to get you started.

1) Study The Org Chart 

Get the latest org chart from HR and get familiar with all of the executives and the key departments that they oversee. Drill down into each layer of the hierarchy and understand what they do and how they do it.

Now, for large Fortune 500 companies, this isn’t realistic to do. So, if you’re in this boat, filter your studying to the main departments that you interact with. Those are the ones that you need to have a deeper understanding of.

For other departments or groups, stick with the higher levels of knowledge.

2) Learn The Political Power Of Key People

In each of these departments, there are the main senior management and working level staff. You want to learn how much power these groups have and more specifically, the upper level managers.

One great way to know how much power they have is to simply look at how big their departments are. The more sizeable it is, the more power they have. Simple.

Typically, executives and/or senior managers that have bigger departments wield more political power than those that don’t.

Talk to your coworkers and ask about these folks and learn about how much leverage they have. You’ll learn quickly as to who’s got strong political power and who doesn’t.

3) Understand Who Has Influence

The obvious folks that have a lot of influence in a company are the executives and senior-level staff. That’s a no-brainer.

However, not all of these folks use their influence. Or in some cases, they don’t have much influence at all - kinda like fucking clueless executives. These are just empty suits that don’t make any significant contribution to the company.

You have to look deeper into the organization and look for the true influencers in the group. It’s also not limited to executives or senior management. A well-respected subject matter expert (SME) can also have a substantial influence on decisions and directions.

And if that SME is part of the core component of the business, you can bet your ass that other people in the org will listen.

For example, do you think anybody would question or refute the guy that leads the search engine algorithm at Google?


4) Build Key Alliances And Relationships

It’s awesome to have a work BFF at the office and it’s something we highly encourage because they can help you manage work stress and be there by your side when shit hits the fan at work.

Next, it’s a given that you need to work well with your boss and your immediate team members. However, you have to build strong working relationships beyond that.

It’s unrealistic for you to have working relationships with every single person at your company. So, the key here is to form positive and kick-ass alliances with the people that have significant influence and power in the organization.

Focus your efforts on building a great working relationship with these people because it will pay off in the long run - big time.

5) Practice With Small Moves

This is not the time to jump into the deep end of the politics pool. You need to hang out at the shallow end for a bit and build up your skills.

When you’ve come up against a small or minor obstacle or issue, use it as an opportunity to practice your political skills. This will come in handy for those instances where another group or person isn’t being cooperative, responsive or maybe just being a general pain-in-the-ass coworker.

Play the political game and escalate the issue in a way that helps them get their shit done and look good while you get your item sorted out.

Practicing with small issues is the best way for you to learn from your mistakes and sharpen your political skills fast.

6) Strengthen Your Spidey Skills

If you really wanna be good at his game, you gotta get your spidey senses in tune.

What we mean by this is that you need to start becoming more aware of the subtleties at work.

It’s the unspoken body language that you see in the manager when they’re asked about the status of the project. Or, the tenseness in the air between the two executives that can’t seem to agree. Or, the curt email responses from a key staff member.

You gotta be able to spot these nuances and read between the lines to bolster your working knowledge of what’s happening in the organization.

The challenge here is that it’s always changing. It’s dynamic and always morphing. Your antennas and radars need to be constantly scanning for these small hidden clues.

So, next time you’re in a stupid meeting, don’t just zone out. Crank up your awareness and see how the key people in the meeting are behaving, reacting and responding. This will fine tune your receptors.

7) Look For the Win-Win Angles

Kicking others down on your way to the top isn’t going to work in the long run. Those that have done it this way usually find themselves in a lonely position where people don’t respect or support them.

As mentioned earlier, this is about playing good politics.

This means that you need to be more creative and look for a win-win in everything you do. It doesn’t have to be a huge effort either like helping them achieve their next project milestone.

It could be as simple as practicing gratitude at work by sending a thoughtful email of thanks or maybe even leaving a hand-written sticky note.

Or even better, send an email to their manager and cc them about how much they helped you out. It’s all about making them look good in front of their boss.

The win-win doesn’t have to be some gigantic thing. In fact, these small victories are better because they happen more often and each time they do, you can build positive karma fast.

And guess what?

When you bank up a lot of positive karma, you can eventually cash out a few favors if and when you drop the ball on something.

Play Smart And Win The Right Way

Look, office politics isn’t going away and it’s always going to be part of work life. There’s no getting around it.

If you ignore it and just sit on the sidelines, you’re not doing yourself any favors. You’ll just end up a casualty because you didn’t do anything about it.

This doesn’t mean that you need to be in it actively all of the time. You just need to be ready for the times that you need to jump and get into the fray for a bit.

It’s mainly when you’ve got something at stake. For all the other low priority things, you don’t need to give a fuck about those, just drop ‘em.

You gotta play the game smartly and in the right way, meaning you don’t screw over other people to get what you want. And, if you can do this well, you’ll make your job more fulfilling and awesomer.

Oh, as for the Emily thing, it turns out that they needed to re-check all of the information because some of the results from the vendor were incorrect. So, it wasn’t a personal or political thing at all.

Anyways, don’t be a bystander when you know that you need to get involved. Build up your political savvy and skills and you’ll be better for it.

Feel Better,

more on cubicle life