How to Survive Office Politics

Photo by Tom Pumford

Photo by Tom Pumford

"Be self-confident, but obedient" is a dogma by Dr. Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff, former ambassador of Austria. As a teacher teaching students at Andrássy University, this is one of the best advice he offers to cohorts wanting an international relations career. This is certainly a positive trait to have when the environment in the office turns to a more toxic nature. We don’t mean anything insidicous like a gunman walking into an embassy. We mean something as mundane and ordinary like a fellow colleague criticising your work or undermining your intelligence. This is the nature of office politics, and it is something that everyone, no matter where you work or who you work for, will one day come to experience.

Office politics can be either a negative or positive influence in your career. It is more the latter if you have little experience dealing with toxicity, which can get you fired, demoted, or alienated by those you work with. None of these circumstances are neither ideal or pleasant to deal with, especially as a diplomat. Imagine if you are constantly being underminded by your Head of Mission and have no one to speak to because no one else has a problem with him. How would you deal with this level of insubordinate disrespect and power politics?

Here are a few tips to survive in office politics and how to make the power play work for you.

1.  Aim to be liked

It is difficult to criticise someone when you like them, but easier to do so when you don’t know them or simply have no feelings towards them. Those who play office politics are generally those who get along with everyone. The goal, therefore, is to get people to know and like you, and make them feel as though you are on their side. Don’t be disingenious for the sake of collecting pawns for a political game. Stay positive and helpful, and reach out to others who are struggling. Be a friend, but keep it professional. When you get along with people, it makes it easier for people to support you.

2. Find a balance between being liked and being professional

No matter what the circumstance, do not lose your temper. More importantly, do not let slip a swear word or appear unhinged. Whether in or out of the office, you must remain professional, especially as a diplomat. Diplomats are always ’on’ no matter where they go, so suddenly losing your composure out of frustration may hurt your mission and national representation.

3. Keep a positive attitude

No one likes a complainer even if others want to join you. It is easier to speak negatively in a group than keeping positive. Often times, speaking negatively and complaining is a form of release that makes one feel good for a few seconds but the after effects aren’t good for anyone. Rather than sticking with a passive approach and being judgmental, be proactive and work towards eliminating problems instead.

4. Don’t burn bridges

In the heat of the moment, it is easy to say negative things that could hurt others. If someone treats you badly or you simply don’t respect them, make it your aim to double up your politeness. It is the best way to let someone know his or her behaviour is unacceptable without burning bridges or making enemies.

5. Keep your reputation sacred

Getting over a burnt bridge is incredibly difficult if it means having to go over unpleasantness again and engage with someone who has ill feelings towards you. Under such circumstances, it is easier for us to criticise than to speak positively of them. However, by making others look bad, it can hurt your reputation. Make a conscious effort to be nice and not to tarnish someone’s character. This requires a great deal of care and attention. Just think of it as someone always watching your actions. Actively trying to be good and say positive things will look more favourably upon you.

On a final note, here is a really good video on how to deal with office bullies, keeping your cool and winning the politics game. Enjoy!