Are you ready to hear a horrifying statistic? A 2016 study found that 52 percent of employees engage with job related gossip — and 33 percent of those who engage in negative job related gossip admitted to cynical behavior against their organization and colleagues. Ouch. We’ve all been there — office gossip can feel harmless, and once we get comfortable around our co-workers, no one will fault you for the occasional gossip session.
But what if gossiping is just the beginning? As that study found, gossip can have a real negative effect in a workspace, and gossip is only a small part of the office politics game. No office is immune to politics. There will be many instances in your career where you will witness, manipulation, backstabbing, and fights for power. How you handle these situations are up to you. If you’re looking to rise above office politics, consider these tactics before jumping into the ring.
Kill Them With Kindness
Let’s start with the easiest tactic you can take: kill everyone with kindness. This circles back to the gossip issue. Don’t spread gossip, don’t vent about colleagues to other colleagues, and treat every single coworker with respect at all times. If you are nothing but kind and supportive of your colleagues, no one can twist your words or claim you are unprofessional. Technically, making a point of being nice in order to succeed is “political” — but at least it’s a positive form of office politics.
Don’t Play The Blame Game
Didn’t get an assignment done on time? Made a big mistake on a client proposal? Don’t blame that intern, assistant, or that colleague no one likes. Take responsibility for your actions and accept constructive criticism. Blaming is transparent most of the time, and you’ll gain more respect by owning up to your mistakes.
Stand Up For Yourself
Let’s say the tables have turned. You’re not doing the blaming, you’ve been blamed. It can be shocking when this happens, especially when the blame comes from a superior. You may feel paralyzed or like it’s not a fight worth fighting, but it is. You’ll never regret standing up for yourself. If you’ve been blamed for something that was not your fault, you can defend yourself gracefully. Have a frank discussion with your manager or whomever the guilty party is. Discuss why you were blamed and why it wasn’t fair, then drop it. This conversation isn’t so much about winning or clearing your name, but establishing the fact that you stand up for yourself and aren’t a doormat.
Mark Your Territory
No one likes a credit hog, but make sure you take any credit you deserve. This doesn’t mean not acknowledging the hard work of your team or others who may have helped on a project — but you should clearly establish when you deserve credit. Keep track of your accomplishments and remind your manager of them during your annual review. Post about the launch of a new initiative or the landing of a big new client on LinkedIn. Be loud and proud about your accomplishments. But similar to when you need to clear your name — only do it once. You don’t need to constantly remind others of what you have achieved, as long as you do so clearly the first time.
Keep Your Guard Up
Work relationships are similar to family in one sense: no matter how much you fight, you kind of have to make up — not only for the sake of professionalism, but because you’re around your coworkers 40 plus hours a week. Being hostile towards them, no matter how little you like or trust them, doesn’t feel good. It’s normal to let your guard down and have a friendly relationship again after a blowout — this is good and professional. But a newly-cordial relationship is not one to be trusted. Keep your guard up with colleagues you’ve had bad experiences with. It’s good to forgive, but be on guard so you don’t accidentally slip into office politics.
If I had a dollar for every workplace communication mishap I’ve experienced, I might not have to work anymore. Jokes aside, communication at work is tricky. People can be busy, distracted, insecure, anxious, and emotional at work, which can be a recipe for miscommunication. Think carefully before you speak. There are times an email is a better way to communicate and times it is not, and you shouldn’t be afraid to clear the air after a conversation goes south. Feel free to pull a coworker aside and say, “Hey, I talked to Amanda and she mentioned our last conversation made you feel like ABC. I wanted to clear the air because that’s not what I meant. I meant XYZ.” You can put the blame on yourself for the misunderstanding — all that matters is that your correct message is communicated.
Do Good Work
At the end of the day, you might have to work with people who want to play the office politics game. Maybe they like to schmooze, manipulate, and scheme their way to the top. You don’t and that’s a good thing. Focusing on doing good work is the best way to rise above the office politics game. No matter what happens, you’ll always be able to point back to the good work you’ve been doing. Plus, your sneakier colleagues will have less ammo if you’re truly focused on succeeding at your job. Working hard is what’s best for your career and conscience!