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How to navigate corporate office politics: A consultant’s perspective


I want to preface this post by saying, I sucked at office politics when I was on the client side.

Worse yet, I had absolutely no interest in it. 

I didn’t want the corner office.

I didn’t necessarily want more responsibility (read: a bigger team).

I just didn’t want to play the game.

That said, I have 20 years of “observing” office politics–and, as such, have learned a lot about what to do, and what NOT to do.

Office Politics

As a consultant, I often-times use this knowledge to my advantage. It helps to understand how to work a room in a big meeting (even if I’m not the one “working it”). It helps to know why my client can’t make the project move forward–because “Jerry” in marketing is stone-walling her through her boss.

So I get it. I don’t like it. But, I get it.

And I thought I’d share some of my observations (from a consultant’s view), on how you can navigate the complex world of office politics:

Rule #1: When it doubt, keep your head down and just crank out good work on deadline

When things get hairy. When people start getting itchy. When it seems like things are so bad, someone might get fired, just put your head down and focus on the task at hand. Resist the urge to “grease the wheels”. Resist the urge to gossip. Resist the urge to bad mouth your cube mate. Just do your work. And do it well. 

Rule #2: Let your colleagues gossip. You should focus on listening.

One lesson I learned the hard way. During my tenure at one former employer, I was usually quick to jump into the gossip fray. It was easy. It was fun. But damn, it was dirty. And looking back, that wasn’t fun at all. Or productive. What did I learn? That people are always going to gossip. And that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean YOU have to gossip. When your work friends are gossiping, listen. Don’t talk. Don’t join the party. Don’t even comment. Just listen. Half the time, your work friends just want to get stuff off their chest anyway. This way, you’re being a good “work friend”, you’re not participating in the evil gossip machine, and you’re probably learning a few interesting things about your colleagues along the way 🙂 Best of all, you won’t feel guilty 24 hours later.

Rule #3: Learn how to merchandise results–effectively.

Make no mistake about it–this is a BIG part of any job. Whether you’re an AAE, or a VP of marketing, merchandising the results of your work is a big deal in the workplace. If done well, it means: 1) More budget for projects down the road, 2) More people on your team, 3) More recognition from your boss and your boss’ boss, and 4) More money for YOU in the form of raises and job offers in the years ahead. But, merchandising results is an art form–not a science. You have to read your boss. You have to know how to share the results. You have to know WHEN to share the results. Getting a feel for how this works is one of the biggest hidden skills no one talks about. And I’m not sure why.

Rule #4: Follow the Golden Rule. Always.

I’m constantly amazed at how some managers and leaders treat those around them. Both their peers–and those who report to them. They usually don’t treat their managers too poorly–for obvious reasons. But, everyone else? Not so great. If you really do follow the Golden Rule in your work life, you will be playing office politics the right way in my book. The leaders I’ve admired over the years have been those who have done exactly that. They have been fair with direct reports. Sympathetic with peers. And just as even-keeled with managers as with those who report to them. Those are the kind of people 99.9% of the workforce wants to work for. That’s good office politics. 



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