A complete guide on how to navigate workplace politics

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Being able to navigate office politics is an important reality for many workplaces. Understanding the different dynamics in the workplace and focusing on positive work relationships can make a big difference to your success. Workplace politics can help to achieve changes that benefit the organisation or individuals within it. In this guide, we help you understand how to navigate workplace politics effectively.

What are workplace politics?

Workplace politics or office politics involves employees abusing power and authority in their roles to gain undue attention or popularity in the workplace. Attaining an undeserving promotion or other rewards may result from this type of negative behaviour. When employees use their relationships with superiors to gain favours, this is also office politics.

Office politics covers any generally negative behaviour, gossip or poor conduct shown in the workplace. Most organisations have some degree of workplace politics happening. It can create uncomfortable work environments, and can completely affect the way employees perform their duties. Many factors could contribute to workplace politics. When there is a lack of supervision or protocols, office politics may often surface.

Tips to navigate workplace politics

Knowing how to navigate workplace politics can make work more enjoyable. If strategic and negative relationships have become an issue, here are a few approaches that can help employees navigate politics in the workplace:

Make friends

In workplaces where there is some kind of bullying going on, it's best not to isolate yourself. Get involved in the workplace and make friends with other employees. This is especially true if most of the conflict comes from one person. By uniting with a group of colleagues, discussing this issue, and facing it as a group, the political people may lose their power. Individuals who abuse their power may often try to isolate victims. If this is the case, having a group of workplace friends can help to prevent this.

Understand the dynamics of the organisation

In many cases, workplace politics may completely bypass the organisational structure. A good strategy is to understand how your colleagues, both coworkers and managers, navigate this structure. Pay close attention to instances where job titles aren't taken seriously and disregarded in favour of people who have more influence. It's important to have a strong understanding of the systems at play, and understand how relationships and influence impact the organisation.

This may help you understand what to avoid and what to focus on. Employees can also observe positive workplace dynamics. Politics can also be a good thing, where some supervisors offer positive support, feedback, or mentorship. Understand who has a positive and negative influence in the workplace and how this affects the dynamics of the organisation.

Document your work

One of the best ways to avoid being the victim of office politics is to properly document your work. Thorough documentation ensures superiors and coworkers know exactly what you're doing and what you have achieved. This proves exactly how productive you are and what work you have been responsible for. This way, nobody could take credit for your work or make unjust accusations about your productivity. Leaving a clear trail of your time and effort may keep you in a position that people can't influence.

Understand the networks that exist

Workplaces consist of formal and informal dynamics. Once you understand the formal dynamics, start to investigate what informal networks are present in the workplace. Take note of how people interact and socialise with those who hold superiority or power. Pay attention to which colleagues get along with each other and which colleagues don't. With a proper understanding of these social dynamics, you may be in a better position to effectively handle workplace politics.

Don't join them

If you're a victim of workplace politics it can be tempting to retaliate against those who undermine you or affect you. Avoid doing this as it can bring you down to their level and backfire. Your managers won't change their behaviour and you could look petty. Of course, don't just accept office politics either. A good strategy is to calmly and professionally ask difficult colleagues for a private meeting. Ask them why they acted how they did and try to find a solution to the problem. Approaching the issue professionally like this can often resolve it.

Use your network to create positive support

Once you understand the dynamics of a workplace and have created your relationships, you can utilise these relationships for good. By using your network to offer support, collaborate on ideas, and motivate each other, you're able to create a positive work environment. This creates a strong and positive network around you, which may help you avoid negative conflict. Setting up a network like this is one of the most effective ways to approach workplace politics and avoid it altogether.

Building these networks may also allow you to develop your interpersonal skills. You could improve your communication skills, and develop stronger relationship-building skills. Doing this doesn't only help you gain friends and a strong professional network, it also helps you with skill development.

Related: 7 ways to communicate effectively at work

Work on your confidence

The way you navigate highly political workplaces may make a big difference. Having confidence and standing by your values may help you to navigate these workspaces more effectively. This is also important for managing your job duties. Knowing how to build confidence at work may help you enjoy your job more, and it could help you improve your success in various areas.

Related: How to build confidence at work

Stay neutral

If you find yourself in negative situations, don't join in. Taking sides may only draw you into the negative dynamic. Instead, stay neutral and avoid these conversations. Stick to your core values and only focus on the function of your job. If you wish to avoid workplace politics entirely, don't involve yourself at all. A neutral position is necessary for this.

Workplace politics could take place in the back office or at a corporate level. Politics can play a huge role in how organisations operate and who can climb the career ladder. Politics could have minor or significant results. Wherever the case, you can try to understand how to handle workplace politics from the start. Follow the strategies above to help you create a more positive work environment and maintain a neutral position in political work environments.

Related: What is the back office and why is it important?

Different levels of office politics

To navigate your way through workplace politics, it's important to understand its varying. Some examples of office politics are very minor and don't have a major impact on the organisation, while others can completely disrupt the workplace dynamic. Here is a breakdown of the different levels of office politics:

Low

Companies with low or no office politics put performance ahead of relationships. When a company puts more focus on work expectations and performance reviews instead of creating relationships and office culture, workplace politics may be very low. This kind of work environment allows employees to understand exactly what's expected of them to excel in their role or gain a promotion. No personal relationships or popularity can affect daily operations.

Moderate

Companies with a moderate degree of workplace politics may often see personal relationships forming within smaller teams in the organisation. The idea of being a 'team player' can affect the way employees perform. You can avoid this type of conflict pretty easily as it's not dominant. It also won't have a major impact on the larger scale of things.

High

Employees create very political work environments using their superiority to enforce standards. There could be small groups within a company that go against other groups or individual employees. Another common feature of a highly political work environment is managers or colleagues undermining employees' work. These work environments might have codes of conduct and regulations in place, but management might only follow these expectations when they're suitable. In many cases, individuals build their entire careers and success mostly based on strategic relationships in these environments.

Pathological

A pathological level of workplace politics is on the extreme side of the scale. Employees could completely disregard any formal work regulations and requirements and gain success purely based on their political behaviour. Political work environments like this can be very negative spaces. High levels of tension arise and there's often complete distrust in these workplaces. If employees don't use their work relationships to their advantage, they might not succeed.

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