Your Career Q&A: Playing Office Politics

By Martin Yate Jan 5, 2016
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This week’s Your Career Q&A column addresses how to survive a new boss who seems to take advantage of relationships to succeed at work. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I hate playing office politics, and fortunately I haven’t had to do that too much in my career. But I have a new boss who came from another division of my company, and already she seems to be an expert at pitting one person against another and leveraging her relationships to get what she wants. I fear that if I’m not good at playing those types of political games, she won’t respect my real HR skills. But I don’t think I have the stomach for behaving in a way I never have before and that I’m not comfortable with. Is it time to find another job?

Charise, Philadelphia

All managers do things differently, and trying to fill the shoes of a former boss can be very hard for his or her successor. That said, while it sounds like this is a difficult situation, you don’t know why she is behaving this way and so you need to move forward simultaneously on two fronts.

Front one: Figure out if there’s a reason for her approach. For example, she may have arrived with a mandate to cut staff and services, and she’s using stress tactics to see how each person performs under pressure to help decide who to keep and who to let go. Or she could be under threat herself and need to make changes quickly in order to prove her skills.

I’m not endorsing her behavior, but I have been around long enough to see these sorts of things happen. She could also just be nervous and not aware of how badly she is behaving. Whatever the situation, the deliverables of the department are going to stay pretty much the same, so your first strategy is to determine what you might do to be more supportive of the new regime, and in the process make your boss an ally by demonstrating your commitment to achieving the department’s deliverables.

Front two: If the toxic environment cannot be cleaned up, you need to survive while you implement your plans for an exit. The first step is a total revamp of your resume; properly done, it’s a great career management tool, making you think very carefully about your past, present and future. Simultaneously, polish your job searching skills and invest a little more time in building your networks with professionally relevant connections. Then think through how you will execute a confidential job search while working full time.

There is a hidden danger lurking for anyone who has decided to change employers. Because you have already emotionally quit, you are in danger of sending unconscious messages that alert colleagues and management to the fact that you are no longer fully engaged. This jeopardizes your current job because employees thought to be leaving anyway are easy cuts to make. Consequently, never discuss your feelings or your decision to leave with anyone at work—depend on no one to keep your secrets.

You should also make a conscious commitment to rededicate yourself to your job and department. I know this is difficult, but it will throw everyone off the scent, make time pass more quickly, and enable you to talk about your current work with full confidence and enthusiasm during upcoming job interviews.

Martin Yate is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked as a Silicon Valley headhunter, director of HR at a publicly traded technology company, and director of training and development at a multinational employment services franchisor. His company, Knock ’em Dead, delivers professional resume and coaching services.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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