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Rodrigo Caetano from the Strategic What Podcast provides tips on how to improve your management skills, become a better leader and improve your productivity. 

Discover how to better plan your projects, inspire your team and take control of your work. On each episode, Rodrigo will share his practical on-the-ground experience and provide you actionable tips on how to be more innovative, get more work done and enjoy your management work.

Do you want to go the extra mile and achieve better results? Let’s hit the ground running!

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Jun 15, 2017

How to Deal with Office Politics? 

In this episode, we will be talking about how to deal with office politics.

I’m sure you have already experienced some level of office politics in your live – promotions, bonuses, accountability, gossip, greed, envy… you name it….

This long list can go on and on…

Yup! This subject is very hard to get a handle on.

I have worked in organizations that lived and breathed office politics.

I also have worked for others that were the exact opposite.

But, in reality… no matter which company I worked for, there was always some level of politics involved in the work I was doing.

The higher up you go, the more likely you will be facing situations where office politics is involved.

Some people even argue that facing politics is a sign that your career is evolving… given that you are dealing with more complex issues.

I’m not sure if I agree with that.  But that’s what some people think about it.

I have experienced office politics of all different flavors and tastes, shapes and sizes.

There was a situation where office politics played a role when I was leading projects involving different departments with managers that didn’t like each other.

I was just trying to get my work done, but simply couldn’t move forward because each manager would create a minefield of problems for the other. 

This was when we hit the zero cooperation mark from both sides and almost every discussion would became a high school brawl.

Yup, I’ve been there…

Another time, I worked for a company that only promoted people who had the same background as senior management.  

Sometimes, I felt first hand on how politics played a role when I was the one being promoted or was receiving a bonus.

Regardless of my years of experience in technology and management, I was still a typical Latino with non-standard accent. To me, nothing explained the extra scrutiny I had to undergo every time I was up for a higher bonus in that company.

But in the end, I was got the promotion and always got the bonus.

Office politics… Yup…

Just a final example, I experienced a very interesting type of office politics…

It happened that someone in the organization was being protected by a higher up executive – for reasons beyond comprehension.

We had this colleague who was completely untouchable.

He could simply do whatever he wanted.

If he missed deadlines, no problem.

He turned in work late, no problem.

He took vacation during a major launch, no problema.

It was so much that his line manager tried to fire him a few times…
but every time he had to reconsider after a “discussion” with senior management…

That’s office politics…

I’m sure you also have a collection of office politics stories.  

But, how do you deal with office politics?

Is there a way to handle it?

Strategy to deal with office politics

I learned a very nice strategy from my mentor Mauricio Lima about office politics.

He explained to me that playing politics is like playing tic-tac-toe…

Do you know that game? The one with a grid, and X and O’s.

Have you ever played tic-tac-toe before?

Have you ever played tic-tac-toe with someone for a long time?

It’s a great game to spend time with a six-year-old kid.

However, I’d never enter a tic-tac-toe championship.  

The reason is simple.

When you play it for a longer period of time, you’ll realize that no one wins.

It’s a game that each opponent will quickly figure out the other person’s strategy,

Then there will be tie after tie after tie after tie.

This is office politics.

Like playing tic-ta-toe, if you play office politics you will never win, no matter how hard you try.

You may win here and there, but in the long term, your opponent will catch up and you will lose again.

This is a game that has no way out.

You can’t win it!

As in tic-tac-toe, the only way to win in office politics is not to play it.

I’ll say it again in simple words:

If you want to deliver results in an environment with any level of office politics, don’t play the game. Focus on the results, end of story.

In practical terms, here is my strategy on how I deal with office politics. Here is my advice:  

  • Don’t spend time discussing anything about politics, just get the work done! Period.
  • When someone comes to you complaining about how politics is destroying their project, ask what they need to accomplish. If the solution is something within your reach, go for it and help that person.
    If not, just let it go!
  • When someone comes to you with an office politics issue and you can’t help that person, just listen to what they have to say. That’s it. Drink the cool aid, listen, and forget about it.
  • Be neutral and never take sides in office politics.
  • Remember, don’t play the game.
  • If someone is trying to pull you into the game, limit your availability.
    Ask what they need from you.
    Give what they want and let them play/fight by themselves.
    Just say: “I’m too busy now, can we get to the point?”
  • It may happen that different sides of the political arena may start to confide in you.
    Listen carefully to what they have to say.
    Just listen.
    Be focused on results.
    Never take sides.
  • Keep your career goals in mind at all times.
    You need to know where YOU want to get and what type of track record you want to build.
  • Your résumé will reflect what you delivered and the difference you made in your organization – not the complaints, jokes, and anecdotes of a politically charged environment.

Always remember, don’t play tic-tac-toe at the office.

That’s how I deal with office politics.

This is the strategy I learned from my mentor Mauricio. I tried it in real life and it works beautifully. 

Don’t play tic-tac-toe at the office…

Have a great day wherever you are in the world.