How to handle office politics

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Do you sometimes feel like you’re walking on eggshells around some of your colleagues? Working with a variety of unique personalities can cause tension in the office. Find out what office politics looks like and how to effectively deal with it.

Office politics exists in most workplaces, even virtual ones. A survey by Accountemps revealed that 80% of employees who participated reported office politics in the workplace.

And while some employees will engage in it, others, mainly those with more passive personalities, will avoid getting involved.

What is office politics?

Office politics can be identified by the behaviour and actions of co-workers seeking status and/or power in the office. This pursuit can sometimes be at the expense of others and can create a tense environment.

Office politicians generally do this to achieve goals such as increasing their power, or influencing the company or individuals to reach their objectives.

Office politics includes behaviour such as:

  • Gossiping, including spreading rumours about others
  • Acting in bad faith, for example, a more senior colleague taking credit for your work or criticising you in front of others
  • Operating with inside information, for instance withholding important information from certain colleagues to give yourself the upper hand
  • Excluding certain groups or individuals by ignoring or leaving out a team member because they did a project more efficiently than you
  • Forming alliances with like-minded people or manipulating others to help you reach your objectives
  • Bullying – this would involve behaviour such as threatening, humiliating or intimidating others

Office politics contributes to a toxic work culture, so employees may find it difficult to work comfortably under these conditions. Some may struggle to concentrate, tensions may develop and other workers may even be fearful of getting involved or taking sides.

How to cope with office politics

It can be tempting to stay on the sidelines, but playing an active role in a company is important for your growth and influence at work. For instance, if you’d like to apply for a more senior position or take part in conversations that will affect you, actively participating in a healthy manner and diffusing office politics could help you get there.

This doesn’t mean becoming an office politician yourself, but it’s important to know how to effectively navigate the office. Try the following:

  • Avoid indulging in gossip and bad-mouthing others. If you have an issue with a colleague, rather talk to them directly and involve HR if it’s something serious.
  • Don’t be passive-aggressive. Voice your concerns and communicate when you feel misunderstood or don’t agree with something.
  • Stand up for yourself while acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Respect everyone in the workplace and remember that everyone is different.
  • Concentrate on your duties at work and ensure that your tasks are always done efficiently so that your work speaks for itself.
  • Stay true to your values. For example, if you value honesty and integrity, don’t gossip about others even if your colleagues are doing it. Also, encourage them to stop.
  • Don’t take anything personally and use tact when giving others feedback.
  • Avoid retaliating when a colleague does something inappropriate. Talk to them privately instead to address their behaviour.

For more workplace advice, read these helpful articles:

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.


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Manage conflict at work

Disagreements are inevitable, but there is always an opportunity to learn from them and potentially come to a better understanding. Read on for advice on what to do when you disagree in the workplace.

In the book Collective Genius, coauthor and Harvard Business School professor Linda Hill says, ‘[Diversity and conflict] are the critical ingredients to innovative solutions. When I looked at healthy organisations, I found that they build these norms in, where it’s psychologically safe to have conflict and discussion.’

Creating a safe space where conflict and disagreements are welcome can be tricky, but it is beneficial. You should strive for a healthy work environment at all times. These tips might help:

1. Be clear

Articulate the issue clearly. Most arguments stem from one party not expressing their view explicitly, resulting in the other party interpreting what is being said incorrectly. Don’t be afraid to be direct and upfront, but make sure you do it in a respectful manner that leaves no room for ambiguity.

2. Know that you’re not always right

Approach every argument as a learning experience. It’s human nature to always want to be right, so taking a step down can be tough. In the workplace, it’s about finding the best solution that works for everyone. Set aside your pride and use constructive criticism for professional improvement. It’s also a good idea to ask questions in order to gain a better understanding of the other person’s point of view.

3. Listen and accept feedback

After you’ve stated your side of the argument, be ready to hear and accept feedback. Listening is an important part of resolving an argument: you can gain perspective about the argument and your argument style from what others tell you. Feedback may not always be constructive, but it can help you and the opposing party find opportunities for compromise.

4. Calm down

If the conversation becomes heated, take a step back. Disagreement should not be a catalyst for rudeness or aggressive behaviour. Always be civil and remember that the goal is to find a solution that works for everyone, not break your team apart in the office.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE.


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