A Survival Guide on How to Navigate Office Politics

Created by Cake

You think you’ve found the perfect job and then BAM! Office politics. And even if examples of office politics haven’t cropped up yet in your career, it’s still highly likely that somewhere down the line they will, as 68% of respondents from a report by Pepperdine University describe them as being common in their workplace. 

Office politics is such a common phenomenon in the workplace that there’s an entire show based around it: The Office. While hilarious, office politics is not a joke, and millions of people suffer every year, regardless of the industry or role.

In this article, we’ll explore the age old question of “What is office politics?”, the 7 most common examples of office politics, why you shouldn’t risk office politics corrupting you (there are more reasons than just simple human decency!), and strategies on how to handle office politics like a pro.

What Is Office Politics?

In addition to cultural fit, the social dynamics of interactions within organizations rely heavily on office politics. These differing opinions, personalities, and roles of authority (and subsequent power), combine to produce office politics. That’s your basic office politics definition.

Unlike popular employment myths, office politics isn’t always harmful to an organization. Office politics can come in handy when you need support (power and influence) from your co-workers, so long as you know how to navigate office politics to your advantage; which, to clarify, doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in negative office politics. 

It’s therefore crucial that you know how to spot signs of office politics and become familiar with how to handle office politics. Trying to avoid office politics outright can be detrimental in the long run as you may not have strong enough relationships within the organization to offer support in future promotion endeavors or possible conflict.

7 Types of Office Politics

Office politics can come in various forms, but there are 7 types of office politics that are most familiar. These examples of office politics are so common, in fact, that many articles even refer to the manifestation of these behaviors in people as “office politicians”. Knowing them and their traits will help you deal with office politics more proactively, so let’s meet them now.

1. Assigning Tasks or Giving Orders

This is especially irritating if it’s given by anyone not in the role of boss or supervisor, like colleague Chrissy who constantly tells you how to complete your work (in the wrong way, no less). Another feature of this example of office politics can even include frequently requesting assistance, regardless of one's position.

2. Engaging in Gossip

This one needs no explanation; it’s the gossiper. Otherwise known as the one who shares others' personal stories, often without their consent. An example of this kind of office politics would be Karen from Accounting telling Ellie from Marketing about Sharon’s new workplace romance that hasn’t been reported to HR yet. Awkward and not very nice to share, especially not without Sharon’s consent. Which makes gossiping, when taken too far, contribute to a toxic workplace environment. Which is one of the main reasons employees have for quitting their job.

3. Demonstrating Exceptional Performance

While excelling at your job is a good thing, consistently outperforming peers in tasks and responsibilities may be considered office politics as it can overshadow colleagues. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t create high quality work as much as possible, but if you’re doing it to curry favor from the bossman and gain a fan club of coworkers, you may start getting some sneaky side-eye and blatant death glares from colleagues. Just a heads up.

4. Building Professional Networks

There’s no doubt that building up a professional network is a great way to get ahead, and you don’t need to be a networking expert to do it. However, take care to look for negative signs of office politics with “social climbers”, who may be cultivating relationships and connections with colleagues who hold significance in the political landscape of the workplace.

5. Offering Excessive Praise

Compliments are great, but excessive praise is troublesome. That’s the life of the “flatterer”, the one who compliments superiors excessively to gain favor. Like when a subordinate constantly congratulates your boss on their cool socks. Weird example, but wouldn’t you feel happy to know someone likes your socks day in and day out? Might put them in your good books…

6. Mimicking Behavior

Nobody likes a copycat or a mini-me, but that just happens to be one of the common types of office politics behavior. This especially rings true for copying the actions and habits of those in positions of power, such as with copycat Cam starting to tell inappropriate jokes to coworkers to be more like their boss, Carter.

7. Employing Social Exclusion

A common consequence of the social climber situation is social exclusion, also known as purposefully ignoring or excluding individuals. While this example of office politics can be a result of many different agendas, it usually takes the form of ignoring communication with someone. Like Stacy repeatedly ignoring Cassy’s conversation with Brenda and domineering the conversation away from Cassy.

Drawbacks of Engaging in Office Politics

Drawbacks of Engaging in Office Politics

While there are several ways to put a positive spin on office politics, there are still plenty of drawbacks to engaging in office politics. This is particularly true for the aforementioned examples of office politics, where many of these types frequently risk office politics becoming negative.

Here are some of the most prevalent drawbacks to engaging in office politics:

1. Damaged Reputation

Regardless of whether or not you’re the problem, engaging in office politics can harm your professional reputation. Be it through lobbying hard for an idea or playing teacher’s pet with the boss, these examples of office politics, when frequently repeated, can be construed as manipulative or self-serving, thus impacting your career advancement.

2. Eroded Trust and Relationships

With the addition of favoritism, gossiping, and occasional bullying, it’s easy to see how office politics can cause an outpouring of distrust among colleagues. Such forms of backstabbing and alliances (with an ‘us vs. them’ basis) can create a toxic workplace for everyone involved, thereby severely damaging interpersonal relationships.

3. Negative Impact on Mental Health

The daily grind is enough, but the addition of unnecessary stress gives office politics the potential to cause mental health issues. This often derives from the culmination of anxiety and insecurity brought on by inconsistent expectations and/or criticisms. 

4. Reduced Productivity and Focus

Taking time to focus on office politics, particularly negative office politics, can be exhausting and detrimental to work productivity, core job responsibilities, and focus. Certain types of office politics can also impact an employee’s willingness to contribute to discussion, leading to a drop in work quality and, in severe cases, employee turnover.

Strategies on How to Deal with Office Politics

While you may be curious on how to avoid office politics altogether, according to an article from Harvard Business Review, it’s actually not in your interests to do so. Instead, it’s best to know how to navigate office politics without letting yourself stray into the deep end.

Below are a few office politics tips on how to handle office politics like a pro, regardless of the work environment:

Tip 1: Maintain Professionalism

Regardless of your informal or formal network, maintaining your professionalism will ensure that you treat everyone with a decent level of respect despite political dynamics. This can easily be done by making sure that topics of conversation are focused on business, not personal, contexts, thereby reducing the possibility to overshare, brag, gossip, or backstab.

Tip 2: Build Strong Relationships

Office politics is all about building up the strongest support, and there’s nothing stronger than positive workplace relationships. Try building such constructive and professional relationships with people outside your social bubble or team, like with superiors and subordinates. The loyalty and friendship from these kinds of relationships trump the negative relationships brought on by negative office politics anyday, making it so much easier to construct a strong and unwavering support network.

Tip 3: Focus on Your Work and Goals

As previously mentioned, office politics can be extremely distracting from your work responsibilities. This applies to your motivations and goals too. But there is a cure. And it’s not to simply avoid office politics; it’s to stay focused. Which is easier said than done amidst office politics distractions, so employees should strive to work more efficiently under pressure. This will help them focus on their job responsibilities and personal career goals.

Tip 4: Promote a Positive Work Environment

We all want a nice place to get our work done, but what can one person do in the face of an entire office in the throes of office politics? They can promote a positive work environment by avoiding rumors, taking a neutral stance in conflicts, and sharing concerns in a respectful manner. Individuals can do so by improving their soft skills, particularly their listening, teamwork, and communication skills, which are key to reducing the opportunity for conflict to arise.


Ready to take on the office? You should be, after all we’ve given you an office politics definition, tips for noticing signs of office politics in your workplace, and strategies on how to navigate office politics (while taking care to not avoid office politics outright). 

If this isn’t enough, Cake has plenty of articles on how to work efficiently under pressure, improve your soft skills, and become the leader you were made to be - all of which will help you immensely in navigating office politics!

With Cake, an online resume builder, we provide you with hundreds of free professional resume templates and various resume format examples that help showcase the best you. Landing your dream job will be a piece of cake!

--- Originally written by Eva O’Mara ---

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