Working Wounded: How to Master Office Politics

Dear WOUNDED: The politics in my company are driving me crazy. I'm tired of all the tap-dancing and ring-kissing.

ANSWER: Recently I was sitting next to a guy on a plane who had purchased one of those lunch boxes. He started to mutter. "Somethin' wrong?" I asked. "I wouldn't feed this to my dog!" he barked. "You really shouldn't think of it as food," I replied. "Think of it as entertainment: Did opening all those little packages give you exercise? Did it distract you?" He looked at me confused for a moment, then smiled as he tore into his cookie.

Just as it's a mistake to compare airline food to real food, you need to adopt a new attitude when it comes to politics at work. Instead of seeing it as tap-dancing and ring-kissing, see it as the way things get done. Because that's what it is: the unavoidable side-effect of trying to accomplish something with a group of needy, neurotic, ego-driven and otherwise normal human beings. I've listed three Do's and one Don't for surviving office politics below. For more, check out Geoffrey Bellman's book, "Getting Things Done When You Are Not In Charge" (Berrett Koehler, 1992).

DO Accept that politics happen. Since politics is a given, it's naïve to think your work will be judged on quality alone. You need to give just as much thought to who will be reviewing it. I knew a foreman once who had this really figured out. He knew his boss's boss hated his guts, so he gave his most important projects to others. That way his fingerprints wouldn't be on them. Someone else got the credit, but his pet projects always survived.

DO Watch what works. My dad was one of the top supply officers in Europe during WWII. When I asked him his secret he replied, "Scotch. My best trade was for a jeep and four heavy winter parkas." Political? You bet, but my dad knew the system and his junior officers didn't freeze. Now, scotch may not have the currency in your company that it had during the war, but your corporate honchos have figured out some equally effective ways to get what they need. Watch the company politicians closely and see what can you learn from them.

DO Decide what you won't do. Kenny Rogers, one of my favorite management gurus, summed it up when he sang, "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em," just don't forget when to update 'em (your resume, that is). Ask any corporate gambler — you gotta know your personal limits.

DON'T Go it alone. Watching people often isn't enough. You've got to have someone ready to advise you on how to survive the political landscape. Find someone who knows how to thrive in the system and offer to buy them lunch to pick their brain.

Follow these tips and politics won't get in your way at work — they'll provide entertainment for you.

Thought for the Week

"No one's a leader if there are no followers." — Malcolm Forbes

List of the Week

Hall of shame ... Major blunders of 2007

  • * Former Merrill Lynch CEO E. Stanley O'Neal conducting merger talks with Wachovia without consulting the board
  • * Home Depot paying Bob Nardelli $170 million for performing poorly
  • * Whole Foods CEO John Mackey busted after using Yahoo! message boards to post negative remarks about competition Wild Oats
  • * Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza accidentally sending an e-mail to a customer who issued a complaint, stating, "Let him tell the world how bad we are."

From: Ken Siegel

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, speaker and internationally syndicated columnist. He'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, especially if you have better ideas than he does. His books include "The Boss's Survival Guide" and "Gray Matters: The Workplace Survival Guide." Send your questions or comments to him via: bob@workingwounded.com.

ABCNEWS.com publishes a new Working Wounded column every Friday. This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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