Thursday, September 17, 2009

5 Steps to Win at Office Politics

As a young web developer, I often heard terrifying stories about office politics. In some cases, events turned dirty and included personal attacks on ones character. At other times, it was merely a disagreement in how something should be done. The higher I go up the corporate ladder, the more exposure I get to the internal struggle between major power players.

In the United States, we see fierce attacks from both Republicans and Democrats. One news program is clearly supportive of one party while another program is supportive of the other. At times the arguments and accusations resemble childhood behavior. As of late I find myself laughing at the silliness. That is until I experience the drama first hand.

In this article, I would like to offer a few suggestions on how to make the most of office politics. For the longest time I chose not to play, but I am learning that in higher education it is inevitable. However, politics does not have to be a negative word as long as you understand the game.

Below are five steps you can use to increase your chances of surviving politics at work. These points were adapted from Kelly Pate Dwyer's How to Win at Office Politics.

Step 1: Figure Out Why (and If) You Want to Play
You can either engage in the game or allow others to make decisions for you. Based on my experience, office politics will happen with or without you. The question you should ask is when is the right time to get involved, if ever. Dwyer points out that it depends upon your goals. Do you want more money, higher position, or a specific perk? Whatever your goals are, think about who you have to influence to get it.

Step 2: Create Strong Relationships
A large part of politics is dependent upon who you know and the relationships you have fostered over the years. Everyone from the ground floor to the penthouse suite is important and maintains some degree of influence. Therefore, find value in all people, learn to treat them right, and seek to help others often. Kelly states that "90 percent of people will return the favor."

Step 3: Observe and Listen
The game of politics is happening around you right now. From the brief conversation at the water hole to the golf game on weekends, people are growing strong relationships and doing the right things. The key point here is to watch how successful people get what they want. Are they approaching the boss in a certain way? Are they close with someone in particular? Learn to identify what others do and seek to do them too.

Step 4: Promote Yourself, Tactfully
Kelly states that doing good work is not always the key to success. To get noticed, you should be comfortable with "tooting your own horn." This means sharing your successes with others and displaying your talents, when appropriate. There is a fine line between bragging and self-promotion. The secret is finding the right balance.

Step 5: Help Your Colleagues

Having support from others is the byproduct of your investment in the relationship. The final step in building a winning political strategy is to look for ways to aid others in need. Dwyer suggests that you seek to help others before they even ask. As a result of your assistance, people are most apt to be there for you when you need them. Think about how you can use your skills, knowledge, and influence to do for someone something they can not do for themselves. Remember, Pay It Forward.


The game of office politics can be a vicious and hurtful exchange between rivals, but it is not always that way. In this article, we looked at five ways to strengthen your influence and increase your chances of success. I would encourage you to apply these ideas and seek to build political credit through goodwill and a sincere desire to help others. As a result, you may experience a more fulfilling life with strong professional and personal relationships.

Until next time...


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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