Business Columns & Blogs

Play to win in office politics

The State (Columbia, S.C.) file illustration

Long after this year’s presidential campaign mercifully ends, you still will need to pay attention to politics – the office kind.

The words “office politics” carry a negative connotation for most workers. They suggest favoritism, apple polishing and smarmy head bobbing to anything a boss says.

And, yes, that exists. But there is a more subtle and necessary form of in-house politicking that you ignore at your peril.

I’ve sometimes heard workers say, “Forget it. I’ll just work at home.” That may escape some of the day-to-day gossiping and interpersonal conflicts. But it’s a choice that sacrifices valuable face time, time that can be spent building camaraderie and collecting brownie points.

If you’re not noticeably in the workplace you might be passed over for reputation-enhancing committees or the opportunity to shine in meetings.

The Five O’Clock Club, a human resource consultancy, counsels that playing politics can be done ethically, starting with shifting your mindset about playing the game. It’s a good thing to develop allies, share information and anticipate reactions.

We’re talking about relationships, trust, diplomacy and pipelines to power. It’s an old axiom that you can’t become a leader if no one will follow you.

You have to build credibility by good, honest work, share credit when it’s due, and ask input from others. You have to spread compliments, when merited, like jam on toast.

Being good at office politics is all about creating influence. If your bosses believe you have their best interests at heart, they’ll be more likely to listen to your ideas, include you in planning and offer promotions.

If your co-workers believe that you care about them and aren’t back-stabbing or bread-buttering your way through the organization, they’ll be less likely to entertain back channel chatter about you.

If employees you supervise believe you care about them and not just your own place in the organization, they will be more inclined to walk the extra mile for you.

None of that sounds like political malevolence, does it? It’s mostly about doing the right thing.

One of my favorite office observations dealt with a manager who made a point each morning to shake each co-worker’s hand and greet them. Maybe there was a bit of conversation. But the personal contact established a physical connection that acknowledged each other’s presence.

Is that office politics? You bet. It’s the good kind, the relationship-cementing kind. When we treat each other as people instead of workplace pawns to be manipulated, it helps create teamwork and mutual support.

You can’t get that with motivational posters or campaign sound bites.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star., 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford,