How to Handle Office Politics

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If you feel like you're secretly filming the reality TV version of "The Office" every time you go to work_,_ we don't need to explain how frustrating it can be to have a boss, coworkers and/or employees who excel at creating drama. Sometimes office politics get in the way of actual work, and other times the culprits manage to remain productive despite annoying everyone around them. Either way, their behavior creates a stressful and unnecessarily competitive atmosphere for other people.

But beyond overly dramatic co-workers, office politics also refers to a culture where you have to suck up to managers or jump through hoops to get what you want. It can feel very frustrating to not be recognized based on your own merit, but rather based on who you're chummy with.

You can discover the way your office works and use it to your advantage when necessary while also keeping your nose to the grindstone. Here are some tips to help ensure you don't become a victim of office politics, but instead stay peaceful and productive while at work.

Understanding Your Office's Politics

Each workplace is a little different and yet shares many qualities with other companies. To handle office politics in the best way possible, you have to come to understand your company's unique culture. For example, in theory, a workplace is organized into a hierarchy and everyone follows this chain of command when a problem arises. And in the ideal office, colleagues work together to support each other's ideas and everyone remains productive on an equal level.

But if you've spent even a day in a workplace, you know that none of this is true in reality. There's a formal hierarchy that looks good on paper, and a separate informal hierarchy that employees follow to actually get the results they need. What does this mean for you? You need to lay low for a while and study the informal network in order to find out who to go to when you have an issue so that you can get the support and resources you need.

While figuring out your office's informal structure, you should also observe your co-workers to understand whether they exhibit any of the following behaviors. Deal with each in a different way in order to maintain a peaceful bubble around yourself at work.

Gossipers Stir the Pot

Office gossipers love to pay attention to other people's lives, work habits, mistakes, etc. and share them with co-workers, usually with an intent to criticize. They feel energized by gossip and, unsurprisingly, it often takes them away from their work. If a gossiper thinks you have a sympathetic ear and want to hear the latest news, they'll take you away from your work as well.

In a way, befriending a gossiper can provide entertainment, but the fun ends when you're the one being mocked and judged. Gossiping can also impact your relationship with other co-workers, who can hear through the grapevine comments that you said. They might even hear comments you didn't say.

To keep gossipers at bay and your productivity in check, try not to engage with gossip at all. Keep your conversations strictly related to work. If someone tries to dish out a juicy story to you, listen passively instead of actively. Don't ask follow-up questions, make sure your body language indicates your disinterest and feel free to cut the story short by saying, "I'm really busy and on a deadline, can we talk about this later?"

Embellishers Lie to Their Advantage

Closely related to gossipers are embellishers. Sometimes this happens innocently. As anyone who has ever played "telephone" knows all too well, the truth gets misheard and misrepresented the more times a story is told. Other times, people embellish the gossip they hear in order to get a better reaction from the listener.

But an embellisher exaggerates not only gossip but also facts and figures directly related to their work in order to make themselves look good. Keep an eye out for people who make excessive claims in terms of budgets, timelines, success rates, failure rates, etc. Always ask to see the raw data until you come to trust that someone relays accurate information. Even then, spot-check their claims.

Credit Claimers Want the Glory

Let's say you're working on a project with several team members. You care about making sure the finished product is high quality and action items are completed on a deadline. But your team members take no initiative. They complete the tasks they were given and wait for further direction.

But you probably get paid the same or similar, and it's frustrating to do the majority of the work, plus have to act as a manager, while your lazier team members get to share the credit. To make matters worse, when the boss comes along, credit-claiming co-workers tend to look busy, leap at the chance to deliver reports or give presentations in order to seem knowledgeable and otherwise try to make it seem like they did more than the bare minimum.

You can make sure your boss or project manager is aware of the situation by providing daily reports that include a "who did what" section. This makes it clear who picks up most of the slack in the team. If it's truly becoming a problem because you're not hitting deadlines or you're feeling overwhelmed, definitely have a conversation with your project manager about coming up with a solution.

Sycophants Want Attention from the Top

Sycophants are employees who go out of their way to flatter, compliment and "serve" upper management in the hopes of earning a promotion. They aren't interested in working their way up the ladder through effort and merit, but rather by leaping over their co-workers and riding coattails to the top.

If only these co-workers were helpful and accommodating to everyone in the office, their behavior wouldn't seem so ridiculous. But the same people who treat you rudely will tend to laugh at the boss's jokes or go out of their way to make the boss happy.

The good news is that most managers and executives are well aware of the intention behind this behavior. Whether or not they like it will depend on their own personality and values. As for what you should do, it's best to just ignore a sycophant's behavior. Don't do them any special favors if they're trying to win you over, and don't compete with them if they're in your peer group.

What Motivates or Causes Office Politics?

Office politics tend to look similar no matter where you go. More office politics examples exist, but the four above represent some of the most common ones you'll run into. Most of these behaviors are motivated by wanting to get to the top of the corporate ladder as fast as possible.

Embellishers, credit claimers and sycophants all want upper management to know how great they are and wave their proverbial pom-poms to make sure they're noticed. They aim for some sort of increase in power. Gossipers, on the other hand, tend to get bored and just like to keep things interesting around the office.

Office politics don't always have to be a bad thing. An "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" attitude may be present in your company's culture, which you can use to your advantage if you find yourself in over your head. Other times, you'll just want to ignore the nonsense going on around you. Striking a balance can prove tricky, but if you find a role model in your company to learn from, you can learn some great tips for healthily dealing with its unique politics and culture.

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About the Author

Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.