Can You Ignore Office Politics?

Can you ignore office politics? I wish the answer was yes. I’d love to give you a Harry Potter style invisibility hoodie to pull up over your head when the cross-fire starts. You could go on with your work while the turkeys battle for survival.

It’s not that easy. I’m a bit like Cheryl Conner, author of Office Politics: Must You Play? A Handbook for Survival/Success. I disdain office politics because “I’m just not that good at it.” If you want to learn how to play the game, read another blog. If you wrestle with staying true to your values within the political turbulence, read on.

Naive Doesn’t Work

For years, I tried the invisible hoodie thing. That worked for a while. I got results and built strong teams. That seemed to be enough. When the politics would get sticky, I’d put my head down and work. I stayed away from gossip and made decisions that were right for the business. I had strong mentors and sponsors. You can go along way with that approach. Until you can’t.

Being naive is dangerous. It leaves you unprepared and reactionary. If there’s a Bengal Tiger lurking, it’s best to know it. Otherwise, the next tiger you may face comes from within.

Counter Attacks Don’t Work

The first time I faced a highly skilled political gamer, I reacted poorly. I was shocked that someone would act that way and was unprepared to respond. My reaction– the most ugly form of defensive. I went into the “two can play that game mode.” I started withholding information. I told others of her ugly nature (not realizing how tacky I looked in the process). I became a terrible role model for my team. I diminished my credibility as a leader. The next thing I knew, I had my own bengal stripes forming and I didn’t wear them well.

Rising Above Office Politics

Understand the politics, but rise above the drama. Some tips for maintaining your integrity and credibility when the jungle gets rough:

Do:

  • Stay focused on the business outcomes
  • Look for common ground (most political battles come from how, not what)
  • Be aware of competing agendas (work to understand them)
  • Focus on building deeper relationships
  • Check underlying assumptions
  • Address conflict one-on-one
  • Role model taking the high-road

Don’t

  • Gossip or triangulate (talk about people)
  • Reward negative behavior by responding in kind
  • Take the bait (get sucked into unnecessary political conversations)
  • Play your own games
  • Draw your team into the drama