5 Tips for Dealing with Messy Office Politics

August 11th, 2016

dealing with office politics

By Michael Solomon, Co-Founder of 10x Management

No matter how painful office politics can be, it’s important to get comfortable with the political landscape of your company. The key is learning how to survive office politics.  “The reality is that companies are, by nature, political organizations, which means that if you want to survive and thrive at work, you can’t just sit out on the sidelines,” managing editor Dana Rousmaniere writes in Harvard Business Review. If you want to make an impact in your own organization, like it or not, you’re going to need to learn to play the game.” This doesn’t mean that you need to play dirty, it just means you might need to sharpen your set of skills and learn how to deal.

“Work involves dealing with people, and people are, whether we like to admit it or not, emotional beings with conflicting wants, needs, and underlying (often unconscious) biases and insecurities. Our relationships with our colleagues–with whom we both collaborate and compete for promotions, for a coveted project, or for the boss’s attention–can be quite complex,” Rousmaniere writes. “More people than you might think are lying to get ahead or gossiping as [a] way to exchange information, vent their frustrations, and bond with co-workers when they don’t trust their leaders. Put all of this together and you’ve got a highly politically charged work environment,” says Rousmaniere.

Most of us know from experience that office politics are inevitable. It’s crucial to work on your emotional intelligence–the ability to monitor your own emotions and the emotions of others.

And in the meantime, here are a few simple tips to help you navigate messy office politics:

1) Ask Yourself: How Important is It?

Sometimes someone says something in a meeting or an email that you could take the wrong way. In fact, most people would take it the wrong way. But then you have to ask yourself — how important is it? Am I catching a little heat for a deadline I missed (important), or is Susan from accounting giving me a hard time because she’s jealous you have more fun and make more money in sales (not important).

Basically, if it has to do with your core functions and performance at work, it might be worth investigating, following up, and resolving the situation. If it’s just someone being petty, most people probably get it and it’s not worth getting bent out of shape over.

2) Praise in Public, Differ in Private

Nothing makes friends faster than public praise. “I just wanted to thank Jim for his work on the Neiderman account. He really made a huge difference.” Jim likes that.

On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes enemies faster than public criticism – or even accountability. “Well, it looks like the Neiderman account has STILL not closed. Jim, any update there? It’s not going to close itself, buddy.”  Unless Jim is your main man and you guys are bullet-proof, he might not take your public reproach well.

3) Be the Person Who Doesn’t Gossip

There are those people who talk about others who aren’t present, and those who don’t. Be the latter. Talking about others when they are not present is a great way to earn a reputation as someone who can’t be trusted. If you talk about Jim when he’s not here, what do you say about me, when I’m not here? Not good things, I assure you.

Then there are those people who are always positive, always authentic, and always focused on getting stuff done. Those people are hard not to like, unless you’re a petty gossip, but then again they usually don’t like anyone.

4) Speak to the Real Problem

Messy office politics are often symptomatic of deeper problems at a company. When sales are down, money is tight, or morale is low, people often resort to treating each other poorly instead of naming the real problem. It can be even worse if your business lacks solid leadership that takes ownership of setting a healthy tone – double worse if they contribute to the messy politics.

Try to keep the “work at the center” as best you can. Name the real problem and try to develop some support with your team for taking the problems head on. Maybe you need a new strategy. Maybe you need to be more curious about possible solutions. Maybe you need to pivot.

5) Ask Yourself if it’s Fixable

Some office environments are just toxic and can’t be fixed. This is most often caused by a fundamental lack of leadership or dysfunctional leadership. Bosses who are in over their heads or fear failure can resort to abusive and unfair tactics.


If you’ve tried to work things out and they aren’t getting any better, it may be time to jump ship. And if you’re a really good software developer or app designer, you should contact us at 10x Management (shameless plug). Freelancing is much less political than full-time jobs.

How do you navigate messy office politics? Tell us in the comments section. If you liked this article please recommend and/or share it.

You might also enjoy reading, How to be Assertive, well – 5 Tips to Stay on Top Without Stepping on Toes.