Mastering Office Politics

Online author Barbara Oaff says that experts define office politics as “the way in which workers recognize, and seek to reconcile, their competing interests.” No matter the size of your company, country, or association, all politics are local. In other words, your team or workgroup’s politics define who gets noticed and rewarded. Therefore, an initial step in mastering office politics is uncovering how things get done in your office.

This will take some detective work, and a good place to start is by interviewing people who are viewed as successful in your organization. The descriptions that these folks give you about the culture, pitfalls, and overall view of the organization will paint a very different picture than those of the average employee. It’s likely that their descriptions will be laced with insights into the nature of the organization. During these conversations, be sure to ask questions such as these, then listen for recurrent factors:

  • Do leaders like people who stay all night to get work done?
  • Do folks who solve problems receive the greatest rewards?
  • Are new ideas the ones that get noticed?
  • Do people who put together great presentations usually get ahead?
  • Is failure tolerated? What happened to the last person or project that failed?
  • What types of work are rewarded?
  • Who are the heroes and the scapegoats in the organization? Why?
  • What gets the most “positive press”?

Based on the answers to questions such as these, you can formulate some strategies about—and understand the nuances of—what it will take to reach your goals.

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