Get Ahead of the Drama: Navigate Office Politics in 5 Steps

Whether you work on a small or big team, office politics are inevitable. The politics — power dynamics and networking at play in the workplace to gain a personal advantage — can sometimes feel overwhelming.

I remember the day I joined my current team. There were so many cliques and an obvious tension between team members that I ended up feeling confused and a little overwhelmed. If you’re a newbie at work, you might find yourself at a loss amidst all of the power plays in your office. Fear not! Navigating different personalities and the tensions between them can actually be good for you, as you will learn how power and influence work in your office. Here’s how to win at office politics.

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1. Understand the political landscape

First of all, observe how things get done in your office and who the key decision makers are. If you’re new to the office, it’s also helpful to identify colleagues who always mentor others at work and build a relationship with them. Second, observe whether there are cliques and who has the most trouble getting along with others. This awareness will help you understand how influence works between the parties involved.

2. Make allies and build connections

Now that you have a good idea of the current relationships in your team, it’s time to build your own network. If you’re a newbie, make it a point to interact with everyone on the team, not just other newcomers. Build relationships across the organizational hierarchy, including peers and bosses. Most importantly, don’t be afraid of your politically influential colleagues. Get to know them too! Create connections based on mutual respect and avoid aligning yourself with any particular person or group.

How do you deal with office drama?

3. Document everything

Some people have the tendency to work hard in the background, hoping that the bosses will notice and acknowledge their efforts on their own. But if nobody knows your achievements, you might be overlooked. In some unfortunate cases,  you might come across colleagues that try to take credit for your work or blame their mistakes on you. It’s always good to track your work progress at the end of every month and keep a running list of accomplishments. This way, you can tactfully prove your productivity, if needed, and you’ll also feel good about yourself seeing your progress on paper!

4. Be the change you wish to see

Office politics should not be seen as a cutthroat means to an end. In fact, the game of politics can give you an opportunity to reframe negative office behavior into something positive. For instance, if a colleague tends to be condescending to other coworkers, you can bring a change to that environment by praising your colleagues for their good work and thanking them for their contributions. This shift to a more affirming work culture may take time, but will make a positive impact on the entire team.

5. Keep your eyes on the goal

Ultimately, don’t let the negativity around you distract you from your passion and goals. Gossiping, backstabbing, and manipulating others are not necessary to navigate and thrive in a professional environment. Play the game smart and avoid becoming emotionally caught up in the drama around you. Surround yourself with like-minded people, focus on the things you want to achieve, and support others as much as you hope to be supported. That’s a win-win-win in the game of office politics!

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Iswari is a small town girl from Malaysia who traveled across the world to attend Cornell University. She is now back in Malaysia, tiptoeing around reverse culture shock while trying to remain sane in the corporate world.