Political will: How to successfully navigate office politics
Use these tips to help you traverse the political landscape in your office.

October 4, 2012
Sponsored by Robert Half International

With Election Day around the corner, avoiding campaign ads is impossible. But political issues aren’t confined to the airwaves; they exist in virtually every workplace, too. When it comes to playing office politics, two recent surveys by our company indicate that employees have conflicted feelings.

A majority (62%) of the more than 700 North American workers we polled said getting involved in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to advance one’s career. That said, when asked to describe their level of political involvement on the job, only 14% of those employees characterized themselves as “active campaigners.” Forty percent of survey respondents are “occasional voters” who get involved only when issues are important to them, while 39% are “neutral parties” who stay completely out of the fray.

The reluctance to get involved is understandable. The vexing workplace phenomenon of office politics has a negative connotation in the minds of many. It’s a term that conjures up images of hypercompetitive kiss-ups, sneering scandalmongers, sneaky saboteurs, and territorial tyrants.

Yes, it’s true that some self-serving individuals will say or do anything to get ahead. But there also are politically savvy professionals who use their deft people skills to rise through the ranks and rise above the fray.

The bottom line is you don’t have to resort to playing petty games, jumping into power struggles, or mimicking the behavior of master manipulators. Following are tips on navigating the nuances of office politics in way that’s positive, productive, and career-enhancing:

Be a people person
Build a broad coalition of supporters by establishing relationships with colleagues in all corners and at all levels of your company. Volunteer for cross-departmental initiatives, attend team-building events, and generally aim to be a friendly and helpful team player.

Some short-sighted individuals make the mistake of trying to impress only the higher-ups, while being rude or dismissive to “less powerful” players. But character and consistency count. Treat everyone with respect—from the CFO to the newest hire. You never know whose endorsement could help you down the line.

Know your audience
Being regarded as “in touch” with the concerns of different voting blocs is essential for politicians. Before giving speeches, for instance, office seekers need to do their research so they can tailor their message and approach to the audience they’re addressing.

Rip a page out of their playbook, and strive to understand the needs and work styles of your manager and co-workers. Astutely observe their respective preferences, perspectives, and pet peeves. While you can’t be all things to all people, subtly adapting your approach can make the difference between “connection” and “conflict.”

Tactfully toot your own horn
Do you cringe whenever someone utters the term self-promotion? It’s not an uncommon reaction. But you don’t need to be a shameless braggart to boost your visibility and get the credit you deserve for your best work and brightest ideas.

Periodically apprise your boss of your latest successes. Add context—and impact—to your updates by quantifying the contributions. Thinking in terms of revenue generated and cost savings achieved conveys a big-picture, results-oriented attitude that employers seek in future leaders.

Stay poised and positive
In our office politics survey, we also asked workers to name the most prevalent forms of political activity they witness at work. “Gossiping” was the top response by a significant margin. While slinging mud at opponents might work on the campaign trail, dishing dirt on the job only makes you look bad.

Trying to cut down fellow employees by whispering at the water cooler about their purported flaws and weaknesses—rather than working hard and heralding your own achievements—will eventually backfire. Why? Making catty comments behind people’s backs will lead to questions about your own professionalism and trustworthiness.

Likewise, don’t allow negative nellies to bring you down or draw you into corrosive conversations. Pessimism is contagious, so keep gossip hounds at arm’s length. Keeping tabs on relevant office undercurrents that could affect you or your responsibilities is one thing; listening to mean-spirited personal gripes and groans is another.

Whether you’re with a Big Four firm or a small company, there’s likely some degree of politics at play in your workplace. Remain attuned to your organization’s political landscape without getting pulled into situations that could compromise your professional relationships or reputation. Successfully traverse the treacherous waters of office politics by building trust and rapport with colleagues—not by playing underhanded games at their expense.


This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf