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Game On! Playing Office Politics

Updated on October 26, 2017
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Stephanie has been a lawyer since 1994 and knows her way around a professional office environment.

Office Politics

What did your boss really mean when he said you could have an extra week for your report? Is your co-worker actually so inept that they don't know how to change the toner after 3 years on the job (conveniently leaving it for you to do each time). Why did all the other people on your floor get new chairs, but you?

If you thought that petty, back-biting gossip is limited to high school girls, think again. The office is a prime location for human nature's competitive streak to bring out the best of the worst behavior. Welcome to playing games, grownup style.

If you work in an office, chances are you'll have to know how to play office politics. The best advice is to keep your behavior clean and above reproach. But how to deal with annoying (or worse) co-workers, colleagues or bosses? Read on...

Are you carrying more than your load at the office?
Are you carrying more than your load at the office?

Game #1: Helpful Hints that are not Meant to be

On the first day at the office, a friendly face pops in your door. "Here, let me show you the ropes," she offers. A perma-grin on her face belies a slight twinkle in her eye. "Everyone takes coffee breaks around 9:30 a.m., and its O.K. to leave your filing until the end of the month (wink!)" Several weeks later, your boss comments on how soon you seem to leave your desk in the morning, and wonders why you haven't updated your filing in days. Can you confront helpful Pollyanna? Probably not - its not usually in good form to take on a new co-worker so soon after starting.

Carefully review your office manuals and ask questions of the people in charge, particularly if advice you've been given doesn't seem to jive with your expectations. If you are familiar with the rules, then the risk of making a mistake is minimized. Instead of blaming someone else, be proactive yourself.

There are times, however, when etiquette isn't openly discussed or set forth in written documents (i.e. asking for vacation or exchanging holiday gifts). Best to lay low and observe, rather than inquire of a colleague who may be out to make you look bad. He may just play you instead.

What really goes on in corporate America
What really goes on in corporate America

Game #2: Veiled Criticism (or is it?)

There's nothing worse than a person who tries to manipulate you with not so obvious threats or criticism. Often times these people cannot bring themselves to directly say what it is about your performance (or maybe even you, personally) that is bothering them. This will leave you wondering whether it was an innocent comment, or actually a criticism of your work product. For example:

"This looks like a good start on the report." (after numerous drafts have already been submitted and this is intended to be the final report); or

"Glad to hear that you can work late tonight," when you accept a meeting request for a conference that starts at 4:30 p.m.

With these game players, its best just to ask them directly what they are trying to say. "Excuse me, but what do you mean by that?" or "Are you saying you think I usually leave early?" Usually, they will bluster their way through and offer lame excuses. But if you are persistent enough (after a number of episodes), they'll probably find another victim other than you.

Name Calling - Games of the Insecure (Scrubs)

Game #3: The A** Kisser

It is so insincere to watch the brown-noser at work. Offering up cheerful encouragement with the energy of a caffienated preschooler, office meetings with this person can be unbearable. Most people are onto the games of the a**-kisser, though. Those that are not, have dangerously inflated egos that depend on the syrupy compliements of this pest. Instead of wasting energy being annoyed or upset by the antics of these people, just leave the kisser and kissee to each other. Roll your eyes (to yourself if you're in the vicinity of your boss) and vow again never to stoop to that level.

Being a yes-man will not advance your career, in any event. If you don't have meaningful comments to offer in response to a proposal or report, then what is the point of your participating? When you are asked for your opinion, give it. As long as you are doing so in an appropriate manner and can back up your criticism with facts and reasoning, you cannot be faulted. Worst case, someone will disagree with you. Best case, the product or report can be made better with your input.

Game #4: Playing Stupid

This game is one usually played co-worker to co-worker. After all, who wants to look dumb in front of the boss? However, it is also a tactic used by the person who screwed up and got caught: "I wasn't trained properly," or "I didn't understand what you were looking for," or "This was outside of my regular duties." The problem that results in these circumstances is then magnified. Not only are there tasks that are not getting completed, or are being done in a slipshod manner, but the worker on which you are relying is offering excuses instead of solutions.

Instead of listening to pleas for mercy, offer proper instruction and help so that your co-worker will be able to complete their tasks in the future. Don't get dragged into game-playing or reduce yourself to their level (i.e. playing dumb yourself in other areas to make them pick up the slack).

Oh yeah, that's really mature!
Oh yeah, that's really mature!

Game #5: Gossip King or Queen

Have you been bestowed with this title at the office? Maybe you want to pass up the honor. Although it may feel good to always have the scoop on the "goings-ons" at the watercooler, you'll end up reducing your credibility, not to mention your trustworthiness - both values that you will need to have in order to advance.

Maybe its really interesting to talk about Jessie from accounting and Sue in payroll hooking up over the weekend. But realize that you could be the next target, as well. If you love to gossip, take it elsewhere, or stick to topics that don't hit so close to home. With Hollywood celebrities offering up stories each and every day, you can chat about their personal issues, rather than your co-workers'. Or, turn the conversation to hot movies, interesting books, or vacation plans.

Game #6: Flirting with or Dating Colleagues

OK, so technically this is not a game because real feelings are at stake, but messing around with your co-workers is a big no-no. It can affect everyone else with whom you work, not only during the romance, but afterwards - if it fizzles. If the feelings are not mutual, there are potential legal implications, as well. Sexual harassment is a big issue, and laws are very strict. You could end up not only getting fired, but also subjecting your office to liability too. Bottom line: you should find someone to date outside of your workplace.

If you've been a victim of sexual harassment, report it to your firm's human resources director. If no satisfactory steps are taken, you may wish to consult with a lawyer. Sexual harassment is not just limited to inappropriate touching. Comments about sexuality, sexual orientation, gender, etc. all may be suspect.

Office politics and office romance
Office politics and office romance

What if Others Play Office Politics at Work?

The best way to win the games that workers play at the office is to opt-out. Don't be a player; be a worker. If someone is not being straight with you, avoid them if you can, and work with others that are more trustworthy.

If that doesn't, or cannot work, then call them on their tactics so that its less of a game. Above all, do not fall into the trap of scheming to get ahead. You can always tell the difference in the end between genuine contributors and those that have other agendas.

© 2008 Stephanie Marshall


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