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Ways to Navigate Office Politics

Trusted leaders are aware of the politics. They make sure their team is aware of them as well

by Walt Grassl
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The first time Jay met with his mentor, Brian, he asked him what the most important thing to know to be successful at work was. Jay was surprised when Brian said, “Politics.”

Politics in the workplace is often an afterthought. But it is important to understand the landscape, the people, and the rules of the workplace. The key to reaching agreements is understanding what motivates a person or organization.

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Trusted leaders are aware of the politics. They make sure their team is aware of them as well. Trusted leaders seek balanced solutions. They navigate the tension between the competing needs of the bigger organization and the team.

Here are seven ways to navigate the politics of the workplace.

  • Be Visible. If nobody knows who you are, you will have little or no impact in the organization. There are several ways to effectively make your presence felt.

Take on tasks that get you out of your comfort zone, and find opportunities to interact with people and organizations that you haven’t worked with before. Readily volunteer for events, such as open houses or teambuilding outings. When important assignments come up, make sure you go above and beyond the norm to ensure its success.

The more people you interact with—work related or not—the more you will make your presence felt and provide an impact.

  • Everyone is a Volunteer. Treat the people you work with as if they are volunteers. You increase your respect. When you approach a subordinate and say, “We need to ship this part today. Can you please take care of it?,” you give them the opportunity to push back. They may have a more urgent assignment that you aren’t aware of. Ask, never tell. If you ask someone to do their job, good employees will always say yes and respect you for it. When you demand and don’t tolerate pushback, you sacrifice short-term success for long-term influence.
  • Be a Person of Influence. When people know and respect you, you will be more influential. As often as possible, you should be positive. You should not complain and you should avoid passive aggressive behavior. Help as many people as possible. Be aware of what is going on around you. Who is struggling? Who contributes above and beyond their job description? Who is an untitled leader? Be a mentor or coach to junior employees, in and out of your chain of command. Make sure the political nature of the workplace is part of the coaching and mentoring.
  • Have Many Networks. Develop relationships horizontally and vertically in your organization. Know your peers that work in other organizations. Know the people from top to bottom in your organization. Know the people in your internal suppliers. Know your internal customers. These relationships will improve the likelihood of you learning things informally. This will help you and your organization look good formally. These relationships will allow you to be more successful.
  • Manage Knowledge. Share Knowledge. Share it to the people who need it. It will improve the value of your relationships. When you inform your team of a change in direction sooner, rather than later, you create good will. Why? They can immediately stop following the old course and redirect to the new course. They won’t feel like they’ve wasted their time and effort. However, one must be certain the change will occur. Things like impending job actions (layoffs, promotions, transfers) must never be shared until it is time. Never gossip at work and hold secrets close.
  • See the Big Picture. A common fallacy in the workplace is that my job and my organization contribute more than the rest to the success of the project or company. When employees realize that what they do is important, it’s a good thing. The inverse is true when the needs of the other employees and other organizations are discounted.  Some decisions that flow down from above may not make sense to the team. Look at the bigger picture. Look at the needs of the other players. Understand the other’s position.  Keep focused on the end-to-end process. Not just your link in the chain. Understand your organization’s role and the roles of your internal suppliers and internal customers. This knowledge will help make processes make sense.
  • Managing Conflicts. Inevitably, there will be tension and conflict between individuals and organizations. The best course of action is to be neutral. Facilitate communication and seek to find a third alternative that satisfies both parties. When you are one of the parties, know when to push back. What are the ramifications for bringing up the problem? Not every battle is worth fighting for. When you must address a conflict, understand the other’s point of you before you explain yours. Look for a win-win result. And never make it personal. Always focus on the issues.

Should you play politics or not? Whether you call it politics or a best practice, you must play. Understanding office politics is critical to being successful. How you use your knowledge is even more important. When you use your political insights to manipulate or create win-lose situations, you lose influence. People won’t trust you. When you use political insights to create win-win results, you become a force to be reckoned with.

Jay rose through the rank of leadership. He was liked and knew a lot of people. He understood all the organizations in the company. He was brought in to lead dysfunctional teams and was able to get them aligned and successful. People would go the extra mile for him because they felt he understood them. Nobody ever called Jay a politician. He just got things done.

About the author 

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author, and performer. He hosts the radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” on the RadioStar Worldwide network. Walt has performed standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas and is an in demand leadership speaker. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit