How Winning at Office Politics Helps You Get Things Done

By Dori Meinert Sep 28, 2016

SEATTLE—Think you're too good to play office politics? Think again.

If you choose not to participate, the people around you are still playing—and they're likely to get promoted ahead of you as a result.

 "You can choose to fight the system, but I think a better approach is to work within the system to get more done," said Karlyn Borysenko, CEO of Zen Workplace. She spoke to HR professionals gathered for the Society for Human Resource Management Leadership Development Forum on Tuesday.

"We've got to stop viewing politics as inherently evil," Borysenko said. "The reality is that politics does a lot of good things as well."

Office politics are the unspoken rules. You don't have to like them. But you need to understand them.

"What we're really talking about is learning how to adapt our behavior to different types of situations," she said. It's something we do all the time; for example, we behave differently at home than we do at work or at church.

"When you embrace this, I guarantee you're going to be more effective at work, you're going to get more done and you're going to be happier to boot," Borysenko said.

She provided the following key principles to help HR professionals understand and adapt to office politics.

People are not logical and rational. "We want things to be fair and balanced and to make sense," she said. "But we also know they aren't.

"People make decisions emotionally and then justify them rationally," she said. "Emotions will always trump logic."

Relationships are your goal. You have to get people to like you. "People think that influence comes from where you sit in the organizational chart," she said. But influence actually is wielded by those who are perceived as experts, she said. That's why every organization has someone in a high position who doesn't seem to have the expected technical skills. Instead, they have soft skills.

"You have to build relationships. They're your secret weapon," she said. And, don't wait until you need something to make your first overtures. Build relationships over time.

People have different preferences and tendencies. When we recognize those preferences, we can adapt and respond in ways that help us connect better, she said. You can take a personality assessment such as DISC to help identify your own preferences and to help you recognize the preferences of others. Another way to build relationships is to stop sending e-mail and have more face-to-face interactions.

Look for the win-win. Don't go for the jugular. "When you are playing office politics well, there are only winners," she said. "Success doesn't mean you have to defeat other people. Success is looking for ways for other people to win."

One way to do that is to determine who your workplace enemies are. It's not about who you like and don't like, but whose goals align with yours and whose don't.

"When you figure out who your workforce enemies are and what they want, give it to them," she said. It's better to get 80 percent of what you want and create allies than to get 100 percent and anger people, she said.

Pick your battles. Sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut. "If you find you're getting heated in a meeting, take a step back. Detach your ego from the outcome," she said. "It's not about being right. It's about being effective."


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