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Office politics: How to play the game

  • Story Highlights
  • "Think of playing office politics as a game of strategy," expert says
  • Gossiping about other people is not likely to gain you the respect you need
  • Confront nasty coworkers but don't mirror their behavoir
  • Expert warns that bosses seen as ineffective can derail your career
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By Rachel Zupek writer
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If your boss is playing favorites with friends, steer clear of trying to get an "in," an expert says.

If your boss is playing favorites with friends, steer clear of trying to get an "in," an expert says.

Politics in the workplace can get vicious -- and we're not talking about the governmental kind.

Rather, office politics, or how power and influence are managed in your company, will be a part of your career whether you choose to participate in them or not.

Some workers say they don't want to get caught up in politics at work, but most experts argue that playing the game is crucial to your career success.

By not getting involved, you may find your talents ignored, your success limited and you may feel left out of the loop, says Louellen Essex, co-author of "Manager's Desktop Consultant: Just-in-Time Solutions to the Top People Problems That Keep You Up at Night."

Here are three common myths surrounding office politics:

Myth one: Politics is a nasty business.

"Think of playing office politics as a game of strategy through which you are able to get the resources and influence you need to accomplish your goals." Essex says. "Most often those who are diplomatic, respectful and build coalitions with effective people win."

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Myth two: Only people at the top are involved in politics.

Not so. "Employees at every level in an organization have the opportunity to win at office politics by building their image, being a top performer and learning to effectively communicate," Essex says.

Myth three: Playing politics is a waste of valuable work time.

"Studies say that those who build their careers quickest spend as much as one-third of their time at work in political activity," Essex says. "They view this time as critical to growing the network and relationships vital to their success."

Some workers involved with office politics simply don't know how to deal with the situation at hand. Here are four examples of office politics in action and how you can deal with the problems:

Situation one: Gossip

Don't participate in office gossip other than to listen and gather information, Essex says. Gossip is good if individuals are communicating accurate information, but kicking up dirt about other people is not likely to gain you the respect you need.

Situation two: Boss plays favorites

Think about why your boss is playing favorites, Essex suggests. Is he or she supporting high performers they're grooming for advancement? If so, step up your performance and get yourself in that inner circle. On the other hand, if the boss is playing favorites due to friendships with employees, stay clear.

"Let others in the organization know of your good work and attempt to work around the situation with your boss," Essex says. "Get involved in committees, projects and social activities outside of your department, which will give you visibility with others who can help advance your career."

Situation three: Nasty co-workers

Confront the nasty co-workers, but be certain you don't mirror their demeanor, Essex says. "Describe the behavior they are displaying and ask them to stop immediately."

If they resist, indicate your intention to set up a meeting with them and your manager to discuss your concerns. "Often, office bullies are unaccustomed to being confronted and will back off when someone has the courage to stand up to them."

Situation four: Working for a boss who is not respected

If your boss is viewed as ineffective, it can derail your career, Essex warns. Look for other opportunities to work elsewhere in your organization.

Search for managers who can help you, teach you and support you, thereby catapulting your career success. If you can't move within your organization, look for options somewhere else.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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