Office Politics: 10 Ways to Play and Win

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: December 9, 2011

Power, influence, status, recognition, ambition and reward -- as much as we might hate to admit it, the stuff that makes a fast-track career exciting and fun can be the very things that can also do it in.

Set any negative connotations aside and face it -- office politics, and playing to win, can make all the difference.

In this, the first in a two-part series, we'll examine how to position yourself for the game you'll have to play at some point, like it or not!

1. Play with a purpose

As with all things work related, you should have clearly stated objectives. If you know what you want to achieve you can better befriend the right people and prioritize your efforts so that whatever you do is leading you in the direction of your goals.

When it comes to office politics, the same applies. Pick your friends -- and your battles -- wisely.  Don't get sidetracked by the game, focus on the prize.

2. Where are you on the org chart?

If you look at how things get done in the office you'll find undocumented relationships and connections at work that are not so easily described as in an org chart.

Tap into "the network" and connect directly with the people who get things done. Add value to the network by greasing the skids for whomever you can help. That way you become part of the only org chart that really matters.

3. The importance of walking humbly

As the saying goes, "It's nice to be important but more important to be nice." People who inflate their own importance invariably get their bubble burst, while those who genuinely foster good relations are better positioned when it comes to playing the game.

Walking humbly does not mean you're a pushover. It simply means you've taken your importance to heart and not let it go to your head.

4. It is better to give than to receive

Being well-positioned politically means people value you. But don't make the mistake of thinking that ingratiating yourself to people will help -- it won't. 

While a "you scratch my back..." attitude may not be a good idea either, remembering reciprocity is a two-way street is -- especially when it comes to office politics.

With reciprocity in mind, remember, the giver has power over the recipient. That is a good position to be in.

5. Can you be trusted?

Trust is at the root of all good working relationships. The nature of office politics is to take things like trust and pervert it for a self-serving agenda.

Practicing the things that we associate with trust is a good way to communicate your position. But don't forget to keep your defenses up.

Being an "open book" doesn't mean full disclosure any more than telling the truth means you always have to have an answer.

6. The best form of defense

Be a consensus builder. The more that people seek you out to help them with their politics-related issues the better positioned you'll be when it comes to fighting battles of your own.

Not only will you have gained valuable insights in the process you'll have gained allies and supporters along the way.

Another advantage of building consensus is that you become a broker, not only of solutions and relationships, but also of power.

7. Brand yourself or be branded

Sometimes our well-intentioned actions can be misconstrued as mischievous, words gently spoken heard as innuendo. The worst case scenario is not to be aware

of how your communications are being received and retransmitted down the grapevine. Avoid this at all costs!

Position yourself by clearly stating, and repeating often, who you are, what you do, what you stand for. Have a personal brand that people can positively relate to. 

8. Create demand for you, personally

Imagine, the copier is out of paper and the supply room is empty or a widget shortage threatens production.

Whether the impact is big or little, anticipate shortages and prepare ahead of time.

That is not to suggest you become a hoarder or price-fixer. But access to resources, especially when they become scarce, puts you front-and-center, a good position to hold. Think: WWII, nylons and chocolate.  

9. Avoid blow-ups

The way we interact with bosses is obviously different from the way we interact with peers and subordinates.

Whatever the transaction, remaining emotionally detached and business-like minimizes your exposure to "office political-incorrectness."

Now, we all have feelings and sometimes emoting can be a good thing. But emotional outbursts not only undermine your position but, if habitual, your employment too. Even under attack, stay calm...breathe!

10. Be consistent and predictable

When people push your buttons they should be able to reasonably anticipate your response.

But, when you find yourself at the center of a controversy, the way you are being portrayed should be in such stark contrast to the way others would expect you to behave that they reject ways a button-pusher may characterize you when you are not around.

Are your feet on the ground?

So, now that we have some tips for positioning ourselves for the game of office politics we can look at some tips and tactics for playing to win. Stay posted! 

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