4 Ways to (Politically) Navigate Office Politics

As the presidential race heats up, you may be nervous about work conversations around the election getting you into hot water, but what about navigating your own political landmines at the office?
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As the presidential race heats up, you may be nervous about work conversations around the election getting you into hot water, but what about navigating your own political landmines at the office?

According to a new survey released by staffing firm Accountemps of Robert Half, 80 percent of employees deal with office politics in their workplace. Of these workers, 46 percent said that gossiping and spreading rumors is the most common office politics activity, followed by flattering the boss to gain their favor and taking credit for others' work.

Regardless of how you feel about these activities, the reality is that 76% of workers believe that participating in office politics is very or somewhat necessary to get ahead. So whether you're an active campaigner or silent voter, it could be beneficial to throw your hat into the political ring when it comes to what's important to you - your career. Here are several ways to tactfully be your own best "campaign manager."

1.Be aware. Some employees are exposed to office politics from the first day on the job, while others may not get a sense of the landscape for months. Office politics can be dynamic and of course, change over time, so you need to be aware of the environment at all times and, most importantly, know how to react to fluctuations. Keep it simple by being straightforward but polite. If colleagues attempt to engage you in gossip, whether subtle or not so subtle, simply state, "I prefer not to get involved in talking about others." End of story. If others take credit for your work, state, "I worked on that and as I recall, took the lead on some core elements of the project." Stick up for yourself.

2.Pay (close) attention during the job interview. Even before you're a political player on high alert as an employee, it's critical to pay attention to clues about the nature of office politics during your job interview. This applies to a job with a new company as well as when you're interviewing internally, as some departments may be more political than others. Observe how your prospective boss interacts with their boss.

Ask how long it takes to get promoted and what skills are necessary to reach the next level. Watch and listen -- the corporate culture can speak volumes. Granted, often times it's challenging to pick up on things like gossip during an actual interview, but the more you heighten your senses and make the most of the time you have with your potential managers and colleagues, the better off you'll be in the long run. Remember, if you sense something's off, such as a seemingly cutthroat culture filled with political landmines, you can always withdraw your candidacy. When I was a corporate recruiter, it wasn't uncommon for a candidate to withdraw from the running on occasion. You're interviewing the employer as much as they're interviewing you.

3.Play the game and pick your battles.
Depending on the level of the political game at your company, you may notice that people who gain favor with your boss tend to be assigned certain projects and team leads. If you're looking to further your career in this way, take the initiative and ask your boss out to lunch. And if they ask you to lunch, always take them up on the offer, regardless of other plans you may have. You have to get in the game if you want to win.

At the same time, if you're fighting a "battle" that's clearly already been won by the other person, sometimes you need to concede to win the war. Let's say your boss already knows there will be layoffs on your team and you present a well-thought out presentation with solutions like reducing your staff's hours so they can stay on as full-time employees. It's great to fight the good fight, but sometimes as hard as you may try, decisions have already been made. Know when to cut your losses. It's nearly impossible for offices to not have some level of politics, but the key is to a.) know what they are and b.) successfully navigate them.

4.Start campaigning for a new job. All office cultures aren't created equal, and when it comes right down to it, you should be focused on your career, not constantly managing political landmines. If your office is all about daily gossip, that's a pretty good reason to consider embarking on a different campaign trail. Since you can't change the leadership or even the culture, ask yourself if the job is worth subjecting yourself to toxic politics day in and day out. The answer will probably be clear: It's time to exit that environment and find a job with fewer politics so that your career -- not your ability to navigate unnecessary workplace scenarios -- can ultimately flourish.

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