Ducking the Crosshairs: Five Ways to Deal with Office Politics

“Office politics are bloody-minded, but weak on content..” – Mason Cooley, American author and academic, known for his aphorisms..

As a productivity expert, I often write about how to avoid wasting time. But one time waster I’ve mostly avoided is office politics. Why? Because gossip, backstabbing, credit-stealing, and slandering others to get ahead all represent the kinds of creepy things I hope you never have to deal with.

But this is reality here. Office politics happen, so in this blog entry, I’ve decided to take the bull by the horns and briefly discuss the depressing underbelly of office work. One thing I will never tell you to do is ignore office politics. You don’t have to play along, but do remain on alert—and know how to protect yourself against this type of cruelty.

I’ve experienced it myself. As a freshly-minted MBA, I entered TRW’s high-potential program over 25 years ago. After six months at the Cleveland corporate offices, I transferred to Detroit, where I worked in a plastics extrusion and metal stamping plant. My assignment was to study and lower the safety incidents at the plant.

My research showed the #1 predictor of safety incidents was whether a worker wore safety goggles or not. When I gave my report, and asked the supervisors to enforce and document non-compliance of goggle-wearing, several employees grumbled, “I’ve been here 30 years, and I don’t need some blonde MBA gal coming in here and telling me how to do my job.”

I was shocked and hurt when many of the supervisors turned on me. “I know, it’s amazing she’s making us do this!” So much for group unity. I did my job, but because of office politics and toxic teammates, my work was rejected and ignored.

You probably can’t entirely avoid office politics, and you don’t want to ignore them in case you get targeted. But here are five ways to duck most of the stupidity.

  1. Avoid gossip. Don’t spread it, and don’t listen to it. If someone starts to gossip with you, cut them off as politely as possible. If nothing else, just act bored. If they make a comment, say something like, “Oh really? Huh.” If they keep going, say, “Uh huh. I see.” Look at your watch. If they don’t get the point, tell them you have to get back to work—and go.

  2. Don’t get involved with causes. Some causes are important, like advocating for better pay and working conditions. Some aren’t. One of my colleagues once worked for an ogre of a boss. His co-workers griped about the guy all the time, and they finally convinced my colleague to take their case to the Vice President. Fortunately, the VP was discreet, and word never got back to my colleague’s supervisor—because when it came time for his co-worker’s support, it melted away faster than dry ice on a hot day.

  3. Watch what you say. Don’t gripe aloud at work, even to people you consider friends. In office environments, there are often those who will happily tattle to your boss for a few brownie points. I’ve seen people fired for saying the wrong things.

  4. Don’t suck up. Conversely, no one like a brown-noser. If you’re seen as too much of a yes person, the manager’s mole, or a person who sweet-talks the boss to get the best projects (or projects taken away from others), you’ll never fit into your team because no one will extend the trust necessary.

  5. Don’t let your boss tell you who you can befriend. On the opposite end of the scale are supervisors and managers who flat out tell you not to be friendly with co-workers they consider troublemakers. Unless you agree with their assessment, you’re within your rights to tell your team leader they have no right to tell you who you can be friends with, especially if you don’t make trouble. In all but a handful of jobs, your friendships are your choice. Just know you may be stained by “guilt by association,” fairly or not.

Hard at Work

Even if you keep your head down, there’s nothing you can do to avoid office politics if someone wants to target you. I’ve seen quiet, engaged hard workers sneered at because they accomplished so much they made everyone else “look bad.” But it’s still to your advantage to just do your job and avoid the dirty pool, unless there’s a true wrong being perpetrated that you must help right. Keep your eyes open and duck the crosshairs when they come your way—because they will.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

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  1. Himanshu Pandey says:

    A very good article! Thanks Laura!