How Do Leaders Succeed Despite Tricky Office Politics?


Office politics can be a difficult topic for many people. Around 47% of recently surveyed employees felt that office politics distracted them from workplace productivity. It is easy to advise people to completely steer clear of all workplace politics and just say that you will let your manager judge you on the merits of your work. However, people are complex. Work relationships are often complicated to navigate. According to a recent study by Course Hero, multiple generations of employees cite communication skills and teamwork as essential workplace skills, both of which require considerable amounts of human interaction. What should you do when politics become problematic?

Stick to your values

“Politics are inevitable in the workplace,” said Abbey Louie, founder and Talent Management Consultant at Elan Consulting Group. “I have been forced to navigate tricky political situations many times. Sticking firmly to these two principles have not yet failed me:

  1. Listen first. When people feel heard – truly heard and cared for – they step away from the politics and become more transparent. Sincere listening, combined with empathy, is powerful.

  2. Remain consistent, authentic and ethical. Even when everyone else is sucked into responding to the politics of a situation, when I remain true to my values and authentic self, it is respected and trusted. It diffuses the politics.”

What do you do if you enter a new workplace and someone instantly involves you in their own political drama?

“Navigating workplace politics can be tricky, particularly if you’ve just joined the company,” said Mary Fox, cofounder & CEO at Marlow. “As soon as I accepted a former role, an employee began treating me as a sounding board to vent their frustrations about another member of the team.

“To avoid fueling the situation, I kept these conversations private and consistently encouraged the employee to talk with the team member directly. If that did not work, I suggested they take the situation to the team member’s supervisor. This employee was skipped over for a promotion specifically because of their inability to professionally manage conflict.”

Lead by example

If left unchecked, politics or jockeying for power can turn to bullying or ostracizing. In this situation, it is best for those in leadership positions to set a clear code of conduct, lead by example, and quickly discourage unprofessional behavior through direct communication.

“In one of my offices, we had just promoted a new Executive Officer (XO),” said Rob Doremus, CAPT USN, Retired. “She was the first female XO in this particular office. Before her first day, some of my staff asked me how they should address her, and said they were confused about what to call her. I responded: ‘call her Executive Officer. She has exactly the same title as the guy who was XO before her.’”

Another way to remove toxicity from company culture is to provide frequent feedback. “Workplace politics can be difficult to navigate for many employees, and may yield a toxic culture at some organizations,” said Marta Moakley, Legal Editor, XpertHR. “For anyone to navigate a culture of petty disagreements, ‘us v. them’ mentalities and dramatic exchanges, it is important to keep an eye on the long-term goals and objectives of the employee, team and organization. Continuous performance feedback is an excellent method to address toxic behavior. Providing constructive and specific information and pointers can disarm many conflicts that would otherwise fester.”

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