Learn to Play Office Politics

Think you’re done with office politics now that you’re a small-business owner? Think again. Whether you like it or not-or whether you’re even aware of it or not-you are indeed involved in politics. Wherever more than two people come together, in any setting, politics comes into play, and this includes executive suite and shared office situations. So the question is, are you playing it smart? Or are you committing political suicide?

Power struggles are at the heart of office politics. It’s built into our DNA to try to overcome any threat, real or perceived. And it’s human nature to want to rule the roost. But you don’t need to give in to your baser self, and you don’t need to learn how to manipulate people. But you do need to learn to play the game in the most honest, self-protecting and helpful way you can.

Number one problem in the workplace: gossip. You know it. You’ve probably even engaged in some of this poisonous banter. Seemed harmless enough at the time, but maybe later you felt a little stained. How do you avoid this toxic chatter? First: don’t initiate gossip within your shared office environment. Don’t talk about other people in the office. On the other hand, you want to be open to the office grapevine to keep yourself informed of what’s going on, unwritten rules and business trends.

Do you see the difference? Gossip is talking about people. Grapevine talk is idea- and experience-centered. So what do you do when a colleague starts whispering about an office-mate’s affair? As hard as it may be, walk away. You don’t have to be rude, or give the impression that you’re morally superior. You can always give the old “I just remembered I need to email Mr. X! Gotta go!”

15 Helpful Pointers

1. Always be professional.

2. No whining or complaining.

3. Don’t criticize someone to someone else.

4. Look for common ground.

5. Use caution when disclosing personal info.

6. Don’t share secrets you want to stay secret.

7. Endeavor to be generous instead of right.

8. Keep others’ perspectives in mind.

9. Strive to make others look good.

10. Don’t make enemies.

11. Help others.

12. Be positive even when you don’t feel positive.

13. Smile.

14. Don’t be aggressive, but be assertive when necessary.

15. Leave personal problems at home.

A final thought: The best way to handle office politics is to keep it professional at all times. Remember the immortal words of Michael Corleone in The Godfather: “It’s not personal-it’s business.”

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