Four rules to live by if you’re dealing with office politics

Following these simple strategies will keep you out of the swirl and make you stand out as an excellent employee.

Four rules to live by if you’re dealing with office politics
[Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash]

Office politics are the quickest way to kill productivity.


Take a happy, high-functioning team and throw in a dash of favoritism, trash talk, and secrecy, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster in which even the best performers can lose confidence, and engagement can rapidly dip.

Office politics are bound to arise, so to ensure you are able to navigate them without losing your cool, keep these four rules in mind:

Identify the source, assess the toxicity level, and forecast its timeline

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have these politics been in place for some time, or are they new?
  • Do you expect them to be short-lived, or long-lasting?
  • Does the issue surround a specific project, team, or policy that’s likely to soon change?
  • Or is the problem related to a single person who’s shown no signs of leaving the team?

Your approach to handling the situation will depend on what the source of trouble is and how long you foresee it lasting. For instance, if a new boss has been brought in and created an unhealthy culture of favoritism on your team, you may find yourself in need of an exit strategy, and fast. But if the particular issue surrounds a three-month project, you may be able to use this one as a learning opportunity so that the next time a project like this comes up, you’ve shown you’re the right person for the job.

Slow down to control how you will react

In times of stress, it’s easiest to operate from a place of emotion and let your feelings get the best of you. If a situation or person at work is triggering an emotional response in you, your best bet is to pause, explore why this is setting you off, and make an assessment given what you know. What can you learn about yourself through this difficult situation?

Remember that you have a choice in how you respond. You have agency, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Things aren’t happening to you, but they are happening. Once you’ve had a chance to reflect, choose to engage from a place of objectivity, rather than emotion.


Seek help and avoid gossip

When it comes to office politics, there is a fine line to walk between providing helpful feedback or seeking input and sounding like a slighted employee. If you have a trusted mentor, peer, or manager, seek their help to navigate through this challenge, but exercise caution. You want to avoid name-calling, laying blame, spreading rumors, or otherwise presenting the issue in a way that suggests you haven’t given anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Instead, go into the conversation with an open mind. Others may have an alternate perspective on what’s happening, and may even point out flaws in your reasoning. If you’re looking for validation to make you feel better about the situation, save that for a different conversation (ideally, with someone you don’t work with, otherwise you’re just contributing to the swirl).

You’ll know you’re ready to seek help if you’re ready to receive tough feedback or advice that may make you uncomfortable, like empathizing with the person who has caused you the most distress. A neutral way to approach the conversation is to state facts–not your perceptions–and ask: “What would you do if you were in my position?”

Keep doing great work and foster existing connections

When the political churn comes to an end, you don’t want to be the person who got so caught up in it that they neglected their work, or completely withdrew from the situation. Be the person who kept doing their best and continued to build strong relationships, so no one has an excuse to question your contributions–even in an unsavory work environment.

While office politics exist in just about every environment, they don’t have to get the best of you. Using these four rules, you’ll be able to navigate just about any unpleasant political situation that comes your way. Though we may not always be able to avoid politics at work, we can equip ourselves to manage it, bounce back, and move on.

About the author

Ximena Vengoechea is a design researcher, writer, and illustrator whose work on personal and professional development has been published in Inc., Newsweek, and HuffPost. She currently manages a team of researchers at Pinterest, in addition to leading a company-wide mentorship program