Office Politics: The Silent Killer

By Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA

Professional Speaker, Best Selling Author, Executive Coach

The secret is out: Office Politics can kill your dreams and success. Gossip can ruin your high hopes. It often seems like an unnecessary evil; but in reality, you are the one who has to learn how to handle these career murderers. You must play office politics, and learn to manage gossip to succeed.

“It is just as cowardly to judge an absent person as it is wicked to strike a defenseless one. Only the ignorant and narrow-minded gossip, for they speak of persons instead of things.” Lawrence G. Lovasik, Slovak priest

office-politicsWhen employees don’t have the information to understand how a company is making decisions, moving forward, or generally operating, they will fill the gap in with gossip that is spread through the grapevine. Add office politics to the mix—and an environment of backstabbing, negative undercurrent, low morale, lower productivity, and other detrimental effects ensues. However, there are specific steps for you to apply in order to stamp out these dreaded killers.

Office politics isn’t about winning at all costs. It’s about maintaining relationships and getting results at the same time.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Office Politics” is defined as “the use of one’s individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one’s legitimate authority.” My question is this: who determines “one’s legitimate authority”? This sounds a little constrained and arbitrary to me.

And here is my favorite part from Wikipedia . . . “Those advantages may include access to tangible assets, or intangible benefits such as status or pseudo-authority that influences the behavior of others.” What? Where is the leader? Haven’t the employees approached the office-politics bottom feeder to call him out on his behavior?

I agree with this definition from BNET Business Dictionary: Office Politics are “interpersonal dynamics within a workplace [that] involves the complex network of power and status that exists within any group of people.” Ah ha! So it seems to stem from the people that drive office politics and they receive their instructions from leaders who construct the culture.

So what can you do to manage this human ritual? Here are the techniques I’ve recognized for managing this career disease. We need to understand that this ritual of politicking is essential for everyone in business.

Keep your Cool

Train yourself not to get sucked into the toxic situation and detrimental behavior. When you feel yourself succumbing to a “fight or flight” reaction, take a deep breath, count to 10, and say to yourself, “This is a test. This is only a Test. This will not be important in 10 minutes, 10 days, or 10 years.” When you buy into others’ bad behavior and become a participant in the grapevine or gossiping, you give your power away. You become part of the problem.

Train yourself to not take comments or criticism personally, because they really aren’t about you; they are simply a reflection of someone trying to upset you for a particular reason. Take the old “water off a duck’s back” approach. This evil ploy or poor behavior used in the business is unsettling, and will derail your self-confidence. Train yourself to plug into a mantra or a memorized phrase such as, “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person.”


Tune into what the other person is actually saying. Stop all the internal chatter and mental terrorism, and don’t just skim over their message. Don’t become upset because you will totally stop listening! Put your own opinions aside and hear their side of the story, from their perspective. By doing so, you will learn from office politics and gossip rather than being upset by it. When you have mastered listening, then communicate effectively.

Learn to Communicate

Question the intent of the message by using techniques such as fogging, a skill that helps you diffuse the situation or the message—just as fog does the sun. Over learn phrases like, “You may be right, help me understand . . .” Stick to your guns and keep digging to find out more. Information is power! If they say, “Oh just never mind. It’s not important,” then you are the one who must bring closure to the topic. Respond by saying, “It must be important, or you wouldn’t have brought it up!” Then use the broken record technique by repeating the fogging language, “Help me understand…” Train yourself to ensure that a conclusion is reached, or I guarantee the subject will come up again and again. If you say nothing in response to comments like these, then you are essentially agreeing with the instigator.

Challenge: Don’t let others kill your dreams and success through office politics.  Don’t let their drama and problems become your demise.

I’d be interested to hear ideas on how you manage office politics and will pass on the ideas to the rest of the group!

Cheers, Marsha

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