Surviving office politics

Talk to anyone about office politics and they will say it’s awful.  But the reality is office politics is often less about stabbing people in the back than it is about building alliances and working the system to get things done.  Politics is about power in all its weird and mysterious forms. That makes it a fact of life in the workplace, and a necessary evil. Yes, there are war stories showing it can be just plain evil but it’s inevitable.

There are some who say office politics should be avoided at all costs. They say it promotes managerial incompetence, fosters divisiveness in the office, thwarts career advancement based on merit, creates a situation where nothing is done for anyone without payback, engenders backbiting and selfishness and stops team work.

But then, how do you stop it? When you throw any group of people with different interests and agendas together, it becomes political. Truth is, it’s also the way things get done.  As former US president Lyndon Baines Johnson famously said: "I'm a compromiser and a manoeuvrer. I try to get something. That's the way our system works."

So what’s the best way of dealing with office politics? Leadership coach Rob Yeung says the first thing people need to do is stop seeing office politics as negative. “When I coach managers who feel that their projects or change initiatives have stalled, I try to get them to change their perspective. Don't think "politicking". Instead, think of the process of building relationships and influencing people as ‘lobbying’," he writes.

Advice here includes not being a drama queen, not detailing your private life, keeping an ear to the ground about what’s going down, creating situations where everyone is a winner, using your sense of humour, and not letting yourself get caught up in office conflict

Some suggest include being helpful, not talking out of school, not gossiping, staying away from sessions where everyone is running down the boss, and documenting everything where you can. Email is particularly good.

Beth Weissenberger at BusinessWeek suggests intensive networking, both above and below you, getting a mentor, and organising some fun activities, like lunches.  It’s all about building relationships, she says.

According to another piece of advice, it’s a good idea to behave professionally, setting a good example and building alliances. “Getting too involved in dirty office politics won't reflect well on you and could sabotage your career. But ignoring it and not engaging in the work community isn't the answer either. Relationship and recruitment experts advise walking a fine line.”

I would suggest that you have to keep in mind several things. First is that office politics will happen whether you like it or not. People will misconstrue events all the time. They will misread things and they will talk. Secondly, you need to communicate at all times. Big decisions will need explaining, don’t just assume people will understand.  Another method many use is to find all sorts of informal ways for people to get to know each other better. That includes lunches, drinks and get togethers.  From my experience, once people understand each other's personalities and personal preferences, they are less likely to get angry about mistakes and mishaps.  Also, be careful about becoming too friendly with any one particular person or group.

How much office politics goes on at your workplace? What happens? Do you see it as good, bad or inevitable? What are the best ways to deal with it?