Office politics is good for you. That is, it makes your life better — not just your work life, but your whole life.

Office politics is a commitment to quality — in your relationships and in your projects. So you need to see it as the glorious underpinning of a transparent workplace in which everyone helps one another.

To that end, being good at office politics improves your ability to meet goals while also adhering to your core values. Here are five reasons why.

1. Office politics reward people who are genuinely kind.

The people who think office politics is about kissing up are the ones who don’t understand being nice.

Being nice is taking the time to figure out what’s important to someone and helping him or her get what they want. This requires empathy, compassion, and an intention to do good. Who can argue that this isn’t positive stuff?

People who try to do favors without taking the time to understand what others actually want are brownnosers. It’s empty favors and vapid praise that give office politics a bad name. But there’s justice in this world: People who attempt office politics without the empathy and compassion it requires actually do very poorly at them.

2. Office politics reward good time-managers.

To be good at office politics, you need to take the time to understand other peoples’ work so you can give them help when you can (after getting your own work done first, of course).

You shouldn’t expect others to take time to teach you what they do. Part of doing a good deed is not requiring extra work from someone in order to perform the good deed for them.

So only good time-managers succeed at office politics, because only the highly productive can feel comfortable enough with their own workload to take on tasks that require lots of mental energy but aren’t on their to-do list per se.

That said, if you think you can be good at your job without making time for office politics, you’re wrong. The hardest workers aren’t the ones who get promoted. It’s the people who are most liked at the office who get promoted.

3. Office politics is the answer to burnout.

It’s very fashionable to complain about feeling burned-out at work. Fortunately, office politics is a way to solve the burnout problem.

Burnout doesn’t come from too much work — it comes from doing the wrong kind of work. So you can solve your burnout problems by figuring out who has the power to give you rewarding work. Figure out how you can help that person, and once you’ve made their life better ask them for help making your life better. People like to help others who’ve helped them.

You might argue that it’s better to do good deeds without expecting anything in return, and that’s true. So go do some. But you can be both altruistic and political at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive — doing both just requires more time and energy.

4. Office politics is a road to self-knowledge.

Some people are easy to read. You see your boss’ weakness, say, and jump in to help overcome that weakness. Or you see when a co-worker is scared and offer support at just the right time.

But some people are baffling. One or two will always misinterpret what you say, or always think you’re annoying, or always exclude you from office activity. These are the people you can learn the most from, because you have to examine your own weaknesses to see why you can’t connect with them. And you have to challenge yourself and stretch your strengths to meet them on their own terms.

Don’t tell me some people are too difficult — being good at office politics means being able to get along with anyone. Aim to be that kind of person and you’ll be more likable and more capable in work and life.

5. Office politics is about honesty.

Why are you at work? To grow, to learn, to support yourself, and to have fun. How do you meet these goals? By carefully setting yourself up to get what you want from the people you spend your day with.

It’s absurd to think that you go to work only to meet company goals. That’s not enough, because you won’t stay with the company forever. Be loyal, sure, but be loyal to the idea of doing good work for whoever employs you. And be loyal to your own goals — to the idea that you owe it to yourself to find paths to grow.

Office politics is the process of meeting these goals — for yourself and for the company you work for. Those who are most dedicated to productive, honest, and meaningful work are also most dedicated to the art of office politics.

13 replies
  1. thom singer
    thom singer says:

    Office politics is just part of life. No matter where you go in life you have to deal with people. Some are easy to have in your life, others are more difficult. Sometimes you get to select the people, other times you are stuck with them. Being kind you will triumph in the long run.

    But is being “good at office politics” the right message? Is it a game? Does one need to play? Can’t just having a personal ethic of letting your integrity and hard work shine be more important? I have learned the hard way difficult people will always be present. I don’t feel it is necessary that one rolls in the mud with them. Better to just silently laugh at their positioning and just be nice.

  2. Alison
    Alison says:

    It’s funny… I avoided cliques in high school, only to be forced into them again in the real world of corporate life. College is expansive, and when I was in outside sales, my job was autonomous enough not to bother with internal politics/clique style office politics (I had to mesh with lots of different clients, but again, it was an expansive enough field I never got pinned down into any clique situations).

    The thing about office politics is expectations. Most of the dissonance in my work-life (and personal life, come to think of it) has come when either I don’t mesh with someone’s expectations of me – reasonable or not – or they don’t mesh with mine. Realizing what other people expect of you is key, and then deciding what approach you’re going to take and what the consequences (negative or positive) will be.

  3. holly
    holly says:

    I hate reading your articles on Yahoo finance. I find that the people commenting are exactly the kind that the “new” workplace is discriminating against. They are the people I won’t work with.

    I don’t like their negativity.

    Everything you say is true: for example niceness counts, it’s the difference between the answer “that’s not my job” and “sure I can do that for you.” I read the comments on Yahoo and think about the reader “You A** and you wonder why you can’t keep staff and why you find it hard to motivate staff.”

    Office politics is everywhere and it does demand you become smarter, more aware and more efficient. If you ignore it, it is at your peril. Your tips show people how to play the game and win.

    It’s about being smart to get ahead…

  4. Chip Royce
    Chip Royce says:

    I’d say that Office politics is often the result of the absence of leadership. Here’s why:

    1) Good leaders create great focus: If a company is well organized and get clear direction from its executives / leaders, everyone knows in what direction to go. Its a lot easier to gain consensus with your peers over the small decisions, rather than the large decisions.

    2) Good leaders set right expectations: If folks have a clear understanding of the rewards / penalties for proper behavior in the workplace, they’ll understand that they can focus on their job and working well with their peers. The converse is also true – when folks don’t know their role, they will seek out what’s advantageous to them (politics). When behavioral boundaries aren’t set, folks will play on the margins or exceed those boundaries (politics).

    There’s one other time you see politics and that’s obscenely large companies where no matter what the leadership do, the organization is too large to have clear focus and boundaries. In those cases, you just have to understand this and figure out if politics are for you.

  5. Jason X
    Jason X says:

    Really good sound advice. I agree, you need to get along with everyone. Otherwise, work becomes very painful. Political savvy is essential. Don’t fight it, it’s necessary.

    However, it can become completely ridiculous at times. Here’s my take on it with satire and a fictional narrator:

  6. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    It’s true. I had a very power-hungry vengeful boss once who just stopped at nothing to get what she wanted. I learned to play the game (doing my job) while staying out of the politics that she constantly instigated. I learned that my job, is just that, a job…not my life. It helped me put that part of my life in perspective & after that I have never had a “difficult” boss…they all see tame compared to that witch…lol!

  7. Brian S
    Brian S says:

    Arrgggh. You are right about office politics, but at the same time…it sucks. The sucks ups and the brown nosers. I would live longer without having to put up with it!

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