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10 Keys To Winning The Game Of Office Politics

April 14, 2016 » Situational Communication® Concepts and Skills

The Questions: How important is it to understand the role of office politics in your career path development? Do you know the rules of the game and what you have to do to play the game to win?

The Answers:

No matter how good you are in your job or profession, without the ability to negotiate office power structures, you’re toast. It’s survival of the
 politically fittest. If you are going to play the game; play to win. Here are 10 keys to winning the game of office politics. Are you ready to play to win?

Office Politics Are For Real

Remember the Aesop’s fable in which a little creature asks a crocodile, “Will you give me a ride across the river and promise not to eat me?” The crocodile agrees, but when they reach the middle of the river, the crocodile turns to eat the little creature. “How can you eat me when you promised you wouldn’t?” implores the victim. The crocodile replies: “How could you not know that this is my nature?”

There are lots of crocodiles in business and the professions. Unless you know how they operate, you’ll be eaten alive. If you have significant career aspirations, it is critical to not only play the game of office politics, but play it better than your competition. Make no mistake: your competitors are just as smart and as ambitious as you are. They want that promotion just as badly as you do. When two equally qualified candidates are available, the person who can influence others and get the job done will win the day.

Winning The Game Comes Easier To Some

Political savvy comes easier to some people than to others. Some of you think you can get ahead by simply working hard and using your talents to the fullest. Others of you are more team-oriented; prepared to put team goals ahead of personal ones. All are great traits and are on the plus side of the ledger. But, if that is all that you have, be prepared for disappointment.

Why? Because some your competitors aren’t as committed to hard work or teamwork. They are masters at working the system, one-upmanship and no holds barred infighting, with little regard for playing by the rules. Like the crocodile, this is “just their nature”. They play the game and play it to win.

To improve your chances of success against these often less than worthy, but definitely capable opponents, you must improve your political savvy; know the game you are playing; and be prepared to “play the game” better than anyone else.

 10 Keys To Winning The Game Of Office Politics

  1. Evaluate the corporate culture. Do people tend to flatter those at the top and ignore workers at lower levels? Do they avoid saying anything that could rock the boat? If you answered yes to any of the above, face the facts: You’ve got organizational politics. Keep reading.
  1. Become politically astute. Focus your efforts on areas that have top priority for the company. If operational excellence, innovative new product development or superior customer service is the next big initiative, get directly involved.
  1. Pick your battles carefully. Albert Einstein once said, “If A represents success in life, then A equals X plus Y plus Z. Work is X. Y is play and Z is keeping your mouth shut (italics mine). Einstein was only partly right. Z is keeping your mouth shut when it’s appropriate. Know when to speak up and when to shut up. Ask yourself those three important questions: Is it important? Can I win? Is it worth it? If you answer “No” to any of them, give yourself permission to “shut up” and go from there. If your opinions could make a superior look bad in front of others, keep them to yourself.
  1. Think and act strategically. Presenting your ideas at a meeting without knowing how they will be received is naïve at best, political suicide at worst. Instead, ask your colleagues for their ideas before the meeting and integrate them into your own so that there’s mutual gain and recognition.
  1. Develop key relationships with senior management. You must be seen as an ally in accomplishing their agenda. Nurture these relationships in private — before your colleagues arrive in the morning, after they’ve gone home at night, and over lunches that you arrange at strategic opportunities. Always conduct yourself professionally. The relationships, connections, positive social interactions and dynamics that develop will pay big dividends for years to come. It represents a down payment on future considerations. No guarantees. Just considerations.
  1. Get in the loop and stay there. Position yourself to get important information. What’s the current hot initiative on the CEO’s agenda? Who’s in favor, and who has lost status? Develop a network of people on whom you can call to get a clear take on what’s happening. Yes, knowledge is power; but only if you have it. Get it and use it to improve your opportunities.
  1. Never allow yourself to be perceived as a victim. Don’t allow people look good at your expense. If someone blames or attempts to humiliate you in front of others, maintain your composure. Refute their assertion without blame or criticism and redirect the conversation in a positive direction. As Thomas Jefferson said, “nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to always remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” Easier said than done.
  1. Focus your career in areas of the company that make money. This may seem obvious, but you’ll enjoy more opportunities in those parts of the business where money is coming in rather than going out. Look to areas of the company that hold its future and move in that direction.
  1. Promote yourself. Self-promotion is a vital part of career management. Help people in authority recognize your expertise and dedication. This is about building your personal brand through your performance. It is not about telling people how great you are but showing them. If you don’t have the answers to their questions, volunteer to find them. When you do enjoy significant successes at work, a short enthusiastic email to the right people will be well received and remembered.
  1. Develop your communication, negotiation and relating skills. Learn how to manage difficult people and situations; particularly when priorities, interests or preferred solutions are different or in conflict. Learn how to read nonverbal communication cues. Focus on listening and understanding first; talking and being understood second. Ask instead of tell. Take a win/win approach. Learn how to negotiate “mutually acceptable solutions.” Above all, learn how not to take things personally. This is all about being able to influence others to achieve “Results with Relationship”.  You can learn all of this right here. Really!

It’s About Survival And Winning

Being politically savvy isn’t about what’s fair or right. It’s about playing the office politics game so that you survive in the cutthroat worlds of business and the professions — and give yourself the best chance to win that promotion or plum assignment. If you don’t develop your political acumen, then you have only yourself to blame when the crocodiles in your organization say: “How could you not know that this is my nature?”


Dr. Don MacRae is the author and passionate leader of Situational Communication® and the CEO of Lachlan Enterprises Incorporated (The Lachlan Group)

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