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How to Keep Office Politics From Sabotaging Your Career

by Kevin Mercadante

If you’re working someplace long enough, it’s usually just a question of time before office politics become a reality in your job and your life. But what few people appreciate is the way office politics can sabotage your career. Office politics are often subtle in the way they develop, and in the way they’re maintained.

avoid office politics

Avoiding office politics is a smart career move.

Eventually, it becomes a practice of maintaining popularity over being efficient and productive in your work. If it reaches that point, you could be in danger of a career crash and burn, no matter how popular you are with your coworkers.

Though some workers may see office politics is a way to get ahead, the decision-makers in most any business usually see it as an obstacle to progress. If you’re one of the political leaders in your company, you may be more vulnerable to a smack down by the higher-ups that you generally think. For this reason, office politics is best avoided entirely.

How can you do that if you’re in a work environment that is highly political?

Strive to be the consummate professional

People tend to respect professionalism, even those who aren’t terribly professional themselves. You can project yourself as the consummate professional by being fair with everyone you work with, by putting your job before politics, and by always being focused on your mission.

Your objective should be to position yourself as someone who is above politics. That will help you to keep from being dragged into them, or even crushed by them.

Focus on your job, not on the side shows

People who engage in office politics are often trying to avoid doing the job they were hired to do. It’s just another form of creative avoidance. That’s exactly what you are engaging in when politics become more important than the job at hand.

Don’t let this happen to you. Always stay focused on your job, and resolve to be the best you can be at it. Virtually everything else is a sideshow anyway, and you don’t need to be getting involved in any of them.

Make it clear from the start that politics isn’t your game

One of the best ways to avoid office politics is by standing above them. Though others may try to pull you into their political games, resist it and focus on getting your work done. It’s going to happen no matter what you do, but you always have the option of refusing to participate.

Your primary goal should be to be productive

There’s a school of thought in some circles that the primary way to get ahead in the business world is through influence. That is the ability to make friends with certain people, and to get others to move toward your way of thinking.

But none of that has anything to do with productivity – which is the usual way in which employees are judged. It’s also the way people are often promoted, or are able to land better jobs elsewhere. Your productivity is your stock in trade, and it should always be your primary objective.

If you’re in a work environment where politics seems to be the primary modus operandi, it may be time to look for another job.

Recognize that office politics are often a distraction

Office politics never seem to be more important than when people are in a state of crisis at work. That crisis could be a conflict with a coworker or boss, unhappiness about the workflow, or even boredom.

Office politics will often be the tool used by the employee to overcome whatever the issue is. The problem is that office politics is a solution that rarely fixes anything – in fact, it usually leads only to more office politics.

Avoid the places that gossip tends to fester

In most situations, gossip seems to be the soil that office politics grows in. People get together to swap negative stories about this person, that manager, or this and that situation brewing in the office. While this can be emotionally comforting, it’s usually destructive. It’s meant to raise some people up – always the gossiper – while tearing down someone else. Gossip is often seen as a form of self validation, as a way of increasing someone’s popularity with others. But it has nothing to do with the substance of your job.

This kind of exchange can be infectious, and that’s why you need to be purposeful about avoiding it. Once you get on the gossip circuit, you’ll be part and parcel of the politics in your office.

Become known as a “straight shooter”

One of the very best ways to rise above office politics is by becoming a straight shooter. Politics is often about distraction and obfuscation – it’s the perfect preserve of the non-committal. But by being a straight shooter, you say what you mean, and everyone knows what you’re saying. You make promises and keep them, your coworkers come to rely on that. Your consistency and performance are your stock in trade, and your whole department flourishes on it.

When you develop that kind of reputation, the political class in the office will often leave you alone. The company will you as something of a separate entity – independent, but entirely reliable.

What do you do to keep office politics to a minimum?


Published or updated June 11, 2014.
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