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What It Means to Be Politically Savvy in the Office

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When you ask twenty career experts a question like, “What is your #1 tip for being politically savvy in the office?” you immediately realize that the phrase “politically savvy” has a wide range of connotations. The phrase, “office politics,” equally so. Some interpret being politically savvy as being a suck-up, some say to ignore office politics altogether. There is no worse advice. Ignoring office politics is ignoring all the social components of working in an office, and that will get you absolutely nowhere. Being savvy doesn’t mean being manipulative, and office politics doesn’t mean gossip or stabbing people in the back.

Executive Coach Debra Benton may have said it best: “All of life is human interaction. ‘Office politics’ is just human interaction with money and a title attached to it.” Once you come to that realization, you’ll be ready to approach “office politics” in a genuine, effective way. Here are the best tips I got from executive coaches and CEOs alike.

1. Avoid gossip at all costs.

“In your efforts to master office politics however, avoid gossip at all costs–that’s precisely where the term ‘office politics’ has gotten its bad reputation. Whenever you’re in a conversation that shifts toward who’s dating who or any other workplace rumors, change the subject or do not offer up your opinion.” —David Bakke, Money Crashers

2. Gather information before offering opinions.

“To navigate and master office politics in any size company anywhere in the world, first seek to understand and recognize that every company culture is different at each level: entry, middle management, at the senior/executive level. The key is to listen, observe, and learn about the office culture and identify the players with the most influence.” —Rania H. Anderson, author of Undeterred: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies

3. Judge people for yourself.

“You should already have learned that you can’t believe everything you hear—this is especially true in the workplace. People will have motives for telling you certain things about others, and you will probably find that most of what you’re told are half-truths or outright lies. You can listen to other people’s warnings, but reserve your judgment. It would be a shame for you to dodge interacting with a potentially fantastic coworker or workplace ally because of someone else’s opinion.” —Chaz Pitts-Kyser, author of Careeranista: The Woman’s Guide to Success After College

4. Be authentic.

“My #1 tip for mastering office politics: be authentic. You won’t please everyone all the time. But if people sense that you’re genuine and thoughtful in your dealings with them and others, they will be more likely to feel a connection to you, believe you, and appreciate your position, even if they disagree with you.” —Brandt Johnson, Principal of Syntaxis, Inc.

5. Keep confidences.

“Secrets abound in the workplace, and your colleagues and boss will likely share all types of private information with you once they feel you can be trusted. Don’t break their trust. In addition to losing the respect of the person whose secret you told, the person you blabbed to will know that you can’t be trusted as well.” —Chaz Pitts-Kyser, author of Careeranista: The Woman’s Guide to Success After College

6. Know that self promotion is not inherently a bad thing.

“I don’t believe that “brown nosing” is necessarily a bad thing unless it is done with malicious intent or to jeopardize another colleague’s position. Self-promotion is essential for survival in this challenging market. Companies and managers need to know who is working hard to make a difference, and the squeaky wheel does get the most attention. Expecting that hard work alone will be recognized and rewarded is naive. On the other hand, indiscriminate brown nosing will be viewed as annoying and ultimately damage your reputation.” —Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide

7. Be heard and be seen, in a good way.

“The best tip for managing office politics is be sure to be heard and seen in a good way. A ‘good way’ would include offering creative suggestions, lending a hand to colleagues, sharing insight with others when asked. Don’t be heard and seen spreading office gossip, sharing negative office stories, or contributing to an unproductive atmosphere. You want to stay out of power struggles and let your work and dedication speak for itself.” —Nicole Darling, MS, Career Strategist

8. Be a positive force.

“My tip to succeed in the midst of office politics is to be positive, cooperative, focused on the company goals, and willing to take on any professional challenge. Look at every problem as an opportunity for you to improve it—take the initiative before being asked to address it. Never speak negatively about a colleague or boss—it will quickly erode your own professional image. Always accept accountability for your mistakes, and graciously accept the accolades for your successes.” —Susan Hosage, MS, Consultant, Executive and Professional Coach

9. Never upstage your boss in meetings.

“Let your boss take credit for everything publicly. Even if you know your boss is wrong, it’s not your place to correct or disagree. Most bosses respond poorly to being embarrassed by their subordinates. It is an easy way to guarantee that your boss makes your life at work a living hell. But make sure that behind the scenes you are engaging in non-aggressive evangelism to promote and protect yourself; networking and establishing relationships with the right peers and management, establishing a presence at industry events, and participating in company-wide projects that will enhance your visibility.” —Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide

10. Be a mentor.

“While it’s always important to have solid support from the higher ups and a good working relationship with your peers, too many people forget or take for granted the support of junior staff. Investing time in mentoring early talent can pay dividends. Given the talent gap many companies face, being known as a developer of talent can earmark you as leader and propel your career.” —Tim Toterhi, Executive Coach, speaker, and author of Job Hunting for Introverts.

11. Bottom line: Treat people with respect.

“My #1 tip is to maintain your integrity and do the right thing. It’s so simple and not practiced enough. You never know who’s connected to whom and the bottom line is to treat everyone with respect. If you engage in a conversation that’s negative or damaging, you’re setting the tone for how you will be talked about, whether you know it or not.” —Anu Mandapati, CEO of IMPACT Leadership for Women

Photo: mihailomilovanovic / Getty Images

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