A spectator’s guide to office politics

As with any contact sport, you don’t have to play the game to appreciate its finer points.

I was lousy at office politics when I was on the client side.

I had absolutely no interest in it. I didn’t want the corner office. I didn’t necessarily want more responsibility or a bigger team. I simply didn’t want to play the game.

That said, I have 20 years of “observing” office politics and have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.

As a consultant, I often use this knowledge to my advantage. It helps to understand how to work a room in a big meeting (even if I’m not the one “working it”). It helps to know why my client can’t make the project move forward—because “Jerry” in marketing is stonewalling her through her boss.

So, I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.

Here are some observations from a consultant’s viewpoint on how to navigate the complex world of office politics:

Rule No. 1: When it doubt, keep your head down and crank out good work on deadline.

Resist the urge to “grease the wheels,” to gossip, to badmouth your cube mate.

Just do your work, and do it well.

Rule No. 2: Let your colleagues gossip; you should focus on listening.

When your work friends are gossiping, listen.

Don’t talk, don’t join the party, don’t even comment. Just listen. Half the time, your work friends just want to get stuff off their chest anyway.

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This way, you’re being a good compatriot, you’re not a component of the evil gossip machine, and you’re probably learning a few interesting things about your colleagues along the way. Best of all, you won’t feel guilty 24 hours later.

Rule No. 3: Learn how to merchandise results.

Make no mistake about it—this is a big part of any job.

Regardless of your role in the organization, merchandising the results of your work is a big deal.

If done well, it means:

  • More budget for projects down the road
  • More people on your team
  • More recognition from your boss and your boss’s boss
  • More money for you in the form of raises and job offers in the years ahead

Merchandising results is an art form, not a science: You must read your boss and know how and when to share the results.

This is a hidden skill that no one talks about, and I’m not sure why.

Rule No. 4: Follow the Golden Rule-always.

I’m amazed at how some managers and leaders treat those around them—their peers and those who report to them.

They usually don’t treat their managers poorly, for obvious reasons. Then there’s everyone else. If you follow the Golden Rule in your work life, you will be playing office politics—or, rather, engaging in workplace relations—the right way.

The leaders I’ve admired over the years have done exactly that. They have been fair with direct reports, sympathetic with peers and just as even-keeled with managers as with those who report to them. Those are the people that 99.9 percent of employees want to work for.

That’s good office politics.

A version of this article first appeared on Communications Conversations.

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