Office politics are the bane of working life. Whether you like it or not, it’s almost impossible not to find yourself right in the thick of it at some point. Ideally, everyone would just get over themselves, put aside their egos, and get along. It’d certainly make collaborating so much easier. Unfortunately, utopias don’t exist.
The reality is that office politics are always going to be around. Learning how to deal with it isn’t about being manipulative or cunning. It’s about being adaptable and knowing how to roll with the punches (as opposed to standing still and absorbing the full impact.)
The keys to upward mobility in the office are in being able to relate to everyone effectively. To that end, learn how you can do this with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on communicating and relating effectively at the workplace. Meanwhile, here are eight tips for successfully navigating office politics without going crazy.
Turning a blind eye to office politics is a losing strategy, especially if you have manipulative and toxic colleagues who aren’t above playing dirty to advance themselves.
Additionally, when you pay attention to the dynamics in the office, you don’t just learn how to protect yourself against those toxic co-workers; you also learn how best to support everyone’s growth and achievements at work.
That’s the key thing to remember: you have to play the field to elevate others, not bring them down.
There’s no need to escalate into a confrontation each time you sense tensions under the surface. It’s essential to be strategic about which battles to fight and which to let slide. If you respond to every provocation in the office, you’ll tire yourself out.
For example, if you have a colleague who continually engages in passive-aggressive behaviour, it might not seem like a big deal in the beginning. Little by little, though, it adds up. With people like this, getting all tied up at every negative thing they say is exhausting. You have to know where to draw the line, but you also need to practice self-control; don’t keep taking the bait.
Every office has at least one of them: people who serve as gossip centres. They can somehow pick up the tiniest details and spread them around the office like wildfire. Most of the time, they’re incredibly negative because they don’t seem ever to have anything good to say about anyone.
They may even have a de facto entourage of followers who, while they may not necessarily help spread negative gossip, eagerly lap it up.
Nothing kills psychological safety in the workplace like virulent, toxic gossip. If it gets bad enough, it can quickly devolve into office bullying. By being a willing listener, you’re enabling toxic behaviour. Save yourself the time and energy; don’t participate in or encourage the drama.
Gossipers aren’t the only toxic people in the workplace. There are the passive-aggressive types, the know-it-alls, and the plain manipulative ones, to name a few.
Even a simple interaction with them can drive you up the wall and sap your mental and emotional resources. It almost seems like you can never do right by them no matter what you do.
If you jump into the fray against toxic co-workers like these, you’ll often find yourself fighting a losing battle. As far as possible, stay away from such people or minimise your interactions with them; don’t give them ammunition to use against you.
If you’re forced to work closely with them, though, here are some helpful strategies to cope, depending on what you’re dealing with.
Playing office politics well necessitates that you build strong, positive relationships with your co-workers. That entails knowing what their personalities are, their work styles, how they communicate, their strengths and weaknesses, coping strategies, and so on. All of this requires you to be able to pull on your EQ skills and empathise.
When you can effectively relate this way, it’s easier to resolve interpersonal conflicts, negotiate tricky situations, and find win-win outcomes for everyone involved.
People mess up; it’s a fact of life. When that happens, the easy way to deal with it is by entertaining the frustration and disappointment that follows and play the blame game, especially if the guilty party is particularly problematic or disliked. Whether or not it’s abundantly clear who is at fault, this is counterproductive.
Indulging in finger-pointing in and of itself will not bring about any solutions to the problem at hand. It’ll only make matters worse since it puts everyone on defence mode and worsens existing tensions. Situations like these focus on who should take the fall for the whole group, instead of how to learn from failure.
When you find yourself in a predicament like this, the best thing to do is to focus on problem-solving. Frame the problem as a learning experience; this way, you shift the group’s attention on moving forward productively instead of on circular behaviours like fault-finding.
Emotional self-control is a massive component of EQ, and when it comes to office politics, it’s indispensable. Whether it’s because of your insufferably toxic colleagues or your boss who doesn’t care enough to listen to his people, emotions will run high.
The key to staying in control of them isn’t to ignore them until you reach a breaking point; it’s in acknowledging your emotions without letting them lord over you. Even if it’s understandable that you’d feel angry or sad given certain situations in the workplace, remember: you control your emotions, not the other way round. If you need to, find a constructive outlet for your emotions outside of work.