The Art of Office Politics

Sara Knapp

Post by Sara Knapp, Executive Coach

Anyone who says, “I don’t do office politics” is in denial. Everyone does office politics. Some just do it intentionally and well, while others don’t. It’s an art that can be learned. And for those who aspire to rise through the ranks, or even just get through the day with less hassle and frazzle, it’s an art worth learning. 

So what is office politics? And how does one learn it? Office politics is about how well you get along with others at work. And, like any true art form, there isn’t a magic formula. However, there are a few principles, which if consistently followed, will serve you well.

1) Recognize that everyone wants to feel significant. To be noticed. To feel appreciated for who they are and what they do. So, feed that hunger. And do so honestly. Here’s how. Notice what impresses you about your colleagues, whether it is their smile, their style, their ability to command a room, or their attention to detail. And then tell them. Make it a habit. Learn to do it well, do it often, and mostly importantly do it with complete honesty and integrity. Very quickly you will notice that your ability to win friends and influence people increases exponentially by doing nothing more than speaking the truth (at least the flattering part of the truth) if and when you notice it. 

2) Become acutely aware of the forces-in-play around you. Those who are the best at office politics understand who the key decision makers are, who influences them, and what it is that they care about. Understanding how these decision makers are compensated is a good place to start. As is getting to know who they are as individuals. The key idea is to figure out what makes them tick. Once you know what that is, make sure you align your priorities, language, and influencing strategies with those needs. Never assume that others are motivated and influenced by the same factors you are. Sometimes that’s true. But, often it’s not. Make sure you know the difference. 

3) Never eat lunch alone. Use your lunch hour strategically to build relationships with those in your department, your company and your industry. Use this time to give and receive help. Help others by providing advice, connections and sharing know-how. What goes around comes around. Building networks of support is all about reciprocity. So give first and often. And when you need help, advice or connections, ask for it. The best get better with help from their friends and network. Build yours so you can too. 

4) Be like Curious George, at least the curious part. Constantly be learning from others. Don't assume you understand what's going on, rather ask: “How so?”; “What for”; “What’s that about?”; “Whose that?”; “Why”; “So what does that mean?”. Over time this kind of accumulated information will allow you to become exceptionally adept at effectively anticipating, managing, and leveraging the forces-in-play that most others won’t even notice. 

5) Find a mentor. Don't reinvent the wheel if you don't need to. There are those who have gone before you that have learned a lot the hard way. Find them. Ask them to mentor you. You would be amazed at how few people do this. Yet if you survey a cross-section of the most successful people you know invariably they will site the help of a mentor as being a key contributor to their success. 

6) Get going! Take action, notice your results, adjust, iterate, repeat.