It doesn’t matter whether you’re working at a company that has 50 employees or a large organization that consists of thousands of people. Wherever you go, you’ll find office politics. Rather than aiming to find a company with no office politics, it’s wiser to learn how to play office politics to your advantage.
If you’re a victim of office politics, the good news is that there are multiple ways to deal with this problem. To help you navigate and survive a toxic work culture, I provide some tips on how to deal with office politics below. I also explain what office politics looks like and why employees engage in this toxic behavior in the first place.
What Is Office Politics?
So, what is office politics, and how does workplace politics occur in an organization? Office politics refers to the use or misuse of power and social networking by individuals to achieve certain outcomes.
Sometimes, office politics can have a positive effect, such as when employees portray a professional image, volunteer to do extra work, or complement others to improve relationships.
Often, however, people engage in office politics to benefit themselves without having any regard for how their actions may affect the well-being of coworkers or their team at large.
It is an unfortunate truth that employees often become involved in office politics because they wish to advance their own personal agendas and improve their status. Unfortunately, in their quest to advance in an organization, such employees often have no problem with tarnishing the reputation of coworkers.
Self-serving office politics negatively affects a business and its culture in many ways. Apart from diminishing trust between coworkers, office politics tends to decrease cooperation, damage relationships, and also leads to a breakdown in effective communication. In general, it breeds a toxic work culture.
Signs of Office Politics
Learning how to read the signs of a toxic work culture can empower victims of office politics. Managers who are interested in honing a more positive work culture and a happier workplace will also benefit from knowing what the signs of office politics are. Here are a few examples of negative office politics:
- Negative morale: A telltale sign that there’s likely office politics in the workplace is low morale among staff members. In environments where office politics abound, employees tend to mistrust each other, which negatively affects motivation and teamwork.
- Low productivity: Office politics directly impacts job performance and a team’s productivity since it takes up a lot of time and energy. Engaging in gossip or manipulative mind games distracts employees from their tasks and goals.
- Ineffective communication: Office politics causes a breakdown in communication since employees don’t freely share information in an environment where there’s mistrust. Also, office politics may involve lies and misinformation, which don’t exactly make for effective communication.
- Low job satisfaction: In an environment where employees can’t trust each other and don’t work together well as a team, job satisfaction is typically not great. A lack of job satisfaction is compounded by the fact that productivity is usually low in workplaces where there’s office politics. Generally, employees are happy and satisfied when they’re working together towards a shared vision and also realizing their own professional goals.
Types of Office Politics Players
If you’re a victim of office politics, you need to first learn how to spot office politics players before you can deal with them effectively. You may encounter many different types of office politics players in the workplace. Here are a few examples:
- The office gossiper: This is the coworker who knows everything about everybody else and likes nothing better than to share information about others’ lives. Since gossip often involves personal information and can also be made up of fabrications or exaggerations, it seldom has positive outcomes.
- The manipulator: These people are dangerous because they’re often clever and know how to use people’s weaknesses and turn people against each other. They like to control others and are good at it. The problem when dealing with a manipulator is that they’re difficult to spot since they’re masters at concealing their true selves.
- Credit usurpers: This type of office politics player likes to take credit for the ideas and work of coworkers. They are often lazy or have a bad self-image and have no problem justifying their actions and lying to themselves and others.
- The flatterers: These are the coworkers who aim to rise in the ranks by sucking up to people in power. By aligning themselves with their bosses, these employees seek to bolster their own importance.
- The clique formers: These coworkers like to form cliques and deliberately exclude others. Since cliques basically involve groups who are ganging up against individuals, such action skews the power distribution in a team and has a negative influence on teamwork and productivity.
How To Deal With Office Politics
Now that you know what office politics is and how to spot it in the workplace, your next step is learning how to deal with it. Since there will always be office politics in the workplace, it’s a good idea to develop skills that will help you cope with the social dynamics of a team wherever you work. Here are a few tips you can consider:
1. Build Positive Relationships at Work
One of the best ways to counteract negative relationships in the workplace is by honing positive ones. Building a support network around you provides you with a safe space where you can vent and ask for advice.
Those who are close to you are bound to let you know if another coworker is spreading false rumors about you and they will also stand up for you when a coworker is trying to tarnish your reputation.
2. Always Act Professionally
If you don’t want to become a victim of office politics, you should ensure that you’re always acting professionally. Remember that while there may be an informal atmosphere at work, you don’t want to become overfriendly with coworkers and start oversharing.
Sharing private information with people whom you don’t really know on a personal level is dangerous since you never know when this information can be used against you.
3. Work on Your Emotional Intelligence
You need emotional intelligence to deal with office politics effectively. Being emotionally intelligent means that you have the ability to perceive and deal with your emotions, as well as those of others.
People who are emotionally intelligent can read others better and will be better able to distinguish coworkers who act with integrity from those who are trying to manipulate others.
Being emotionally intelligent will also prevent you from acting emotionally and impulsively when you’re the victim of office politics.
4. Avoid Gossip
If you don’t want to be gossiped about, it is a good idea to not partake in any gossip that’s going around in the office. Putting up boundaries from the word-go when it comes to interpersonal relationships will go a long way in keeping you out of office politics.
If you behave professionally and don’t become overfamiliar with coworkers, chances are they won’t approach you to gossip about others.
5. Keep Your Performance Up
Don’t allow office politics to negatively affect your performance. Trying to figure out the mind games that others are playing and partaking in office gossip can take up a lot of your time.
Focusing on your duties and keeping your professional goals in mind are effective ways of avoiding the trap of becoming involved in office politics. You can also positively influence coworkers by demonstrating enthusiasm for your job and exhibiting a positive attitude in general.
6. Choose Your Battles Carefully
If you’re a victim of office politics and are being targeted by a coworker, you want to refrain from reacting on impulse. Despite the fact that you’re the innocent party, reacting aggressively or emotionally when a coworker is conspiring against you can count against you.
It’s advisable to keep your head down and stay out of office politics as much as you can. If your coworkers’ gossip or manipulative actions start to negatively affect your work or your reputation, you should obviously act. But, it would be best if you did so in a calm and calculated way and after you’ve thought things through.
7. Be a Good Team Player
Apart from remaining professional at all times, you should also aim to become an indispensable part of your team. This means offering to take on some of a coworker’s tasks when they’re not feeling well, or volunteering to do a team member’s overtime shift in the event that they have an emergency.
Being kind and acting with integrity will enhance your value as a teammate. In addition, the office gossiper is less likely to spread rumors about you if you’ve recently helped them in some way or another.
8. Act With Confidence
Coworkers are less likely to conspire against you or try tarnish your reputation if you come across as a strong and confident person.
While coworkers may become jealous or feel threatened if you’re a good performer, they’re less likely to attack you if they know you won’t take harassment or bullying lying down.
Although you always want to stay true to your own personality, you should therefore guard against coming across as too shy or weak to stand up for yourself.
9. Take Action
If office politics starts to influence your work performance or happiness, you need to take action. As I mentioned before, you should guard against acting impulsively or when you’re upset. Instead, carefully consider your position and then plan your course of action.
If you think it may be effective, you can directly confront the guilty party, or you can launch a counterattack. Whatever you decide to do, remain calm and professional, and collect as much evidence as you can along the way.
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Founder of Eggcellentwork.com. With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.