Neglect office politics at your own peril



I like my new job, my supervisor and my coworkers, except for a woman I’ve nicknamed “the queen.” The problem began as soon as my first all-hands meeting ended. Several of my coworkers invited me to have drinks with them after work. The queen overheard because she and I were heading into a pre-planned meeting that lasted until the end of the workday. Two days later, she asked if I’d enjoyed socializing with “our” coworkers. I said “sure” and didn’t think anything of it, until she mentioned it surprised her that I hadn’t invited her to come along with me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to do so.

Then other dominos began falling. I don’t need handholding to do my job. The queen has made it clear she’s offended when I do my work without consulting her in advance. If our work overlapped, I would consult her, but we have distinctly different responsibilities. A couple of times she’s launched into long lectures about how she’s done things in the past, but what she tells me doesn’t relate to my present duties. I admit my mind wanders when she pontificates, and twice she’s pointedly asked, “Am I boring you?”

None of this would be a problem, except she has a close relationship with my supervisor. They’re like sister and brother; she’s often in his office, and he’s quite protective of her. He’s let me know I’ve offended her “multiple times” by not “using her expertise” and he expects me to act to “erase the tension.” When I asked, “In what areas haven’t I used her expertise?” he responded, “She’s been here a long time, has far-ranging opinions about many things, and I expect you to seek her counsel given you’re new.” He then told me that I’m getting a reputation for being difficult to work with.

Really? All of this seems incredibly petty, and a waste of time. I don’t “do” office politics, and everyone other than the queen seems to like me, but I’m still in my probationary period. Do I have to suck it up?


You don’t want to play office politics? That’s like saying you’d rather be a pawn than a queen on a chessboard. By ignoring office politics — the reality of alliances, visibility and influence with or without authority — you risk getting mauled or swept off the workplace chessboard.

Here’s what you need to know.

It’s reality

If you want to thrive, you need to know who the influencers in your organization are and what matters to them. How are decisions made? What minefields exist? Who is respected? What results matter? Who does your supervisor champion? What cliques exist? You don’t need to actively play office politics; you do need to maintain an awareness of what’s out there that could rise up and bite you. You wouldn’t hike the Resurrection Trail without keeping an eye out for bears, would you?

Office politics skills include knowing how to move projects along; learning whom to speak with about what; understanding how to deftly handle public putdowns; picking your battles wisely, and not insulting or embarrassing people when they provide you information. You did the latter when your mind “wandered.”

Play your “A” game

Your coworker has a solid relationship with your supervisor and has already “worked” him against you. Given this, you need to play your “A” game. This means getting past feeling victimized or irritated by your workplace’s political reality. Instead, focus on what you can do, which is a lot. Start by building your relationship with your supervisor so he knows who you are and won’t believe how “the queen” characterizes you. You can even use what’s just happened, and say, “I’m concerned she’s upset with me. What do you suggest?”

Treat others well

You need strong, mutual relationships to survive in any organization. Get to know your organization’s decision-makers and those on whose support you depend. Approach them from a “What matters to you?” and “How can we both work together and support each other?” perspective, not a “how can I use you?” perspective.

When others learn you operate according to “How can you and I both win,” you build trust, respect and friendship. Professionally interact with everyone, even those you don’t appreciate. Your supervisor wants you to respect “the queen.” Giving respect to her doesn’t mean she deserves it, but rather that you’re a person who respects others.

My guess: I haven’t suggested anything you can’t do. The question: Do you want to?

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