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5 ways to handle office politics (so you don’t get sucked into other people’s anxiety and drama)

We’ve all dealt with office politics before. It’s when you see someone trying to get the boss to show favoritism. Or to choose their ideas over someone else’s because they are more “likable,” whatever that means. At best, it’s a nuisance. But at worst, it can seriously harm your career progression. Unfortunately, though, it happens nearly across the board. When you put different personalities in a room, there are bound to be situations where some people want to get ahead through favoritism over actually doing the work required.

So while you may not be able to avoid office politics completely, there’s a lot you can do to handle it so you don’t get sucked up in the drama and anxiety of it all. Read on to see our top tips for how to handle office politics easily so you can get back to your work – and your life.

5 – Ignore it completely 

An easy option for dealing with office politics is to ignore it

One of the easiest ways to handle office politics is to ignore it. If you see someone trying to curry favor with the boss, leave it alone. If you don’t like how someone is trying to spread gossip to tear down someone they don’t like, don’t engage. It’s easier said than done, but it’s also not that hard to do. Instead of taking part, you can easily change the subject or choose not to engage in similar actions.

Keep in mind that ignoring office politics does not mean you ignore your coworkers or retreat from office life. In fact, it means the opposite. You can happily engage with coworkers just as you would before, but simply not engage with the drama and office politics of it all. If most of the politicking comes from one or two people, you can choose to ignore those individuals if you’d like – it might make your life a lot easier.

Either way, you always have a choice to ignore the office politics. Chances are you have better things to do, anyway.

4 – Don’t spread gossip or speak negatively about people

Office politics spreads through gossip - don’t take part

If you’re in a workplace where office politics is everywhere and you can’t ignore it, you can at least avoid getting caught up in it. Most of the time, people further office politics through gossip. Nasty comments about one person over here. “Suggesting” that another person isn’t working that hard over there. It’s tough to pinpoint, but you know it when you hear it. If you find yourself in one of these situations and you don’t want to take part, the best way to avoid any issue is not repeat anything. That is: don’t gossip.

Whenever you hear something about someone else, nod and acknowledge it but don’t repeat it. Become a locked safe for people’s gossip – you may be forced to hear it, but you don’t spread it.

In an office where there’s politicking and backstabbing, be careful about your legitimate grievances as well. Sharing a genuine concern about a coworker or a real issue with someone’s work may be considered the same as gossiping. Instead, make sure you always follow official protocols for grievances and complaints in your offices, if you have any.

3 – Ask for a work rubric

If you know what you need to accomplish at work, you won’t need favoritism to get ahead

Here’s the thing: office politics usually happens because people want to get ahead. And wanting to get ahead is not a crime. In fact, it’s desirable in employees. You probably want to get ahead as well – and that’s a great thing. The problem is that getting ahead requires a pathway. In the absence of a regular pathway people can take to get ahead, people turn to favoritism and office politics.

To avoid falling into the trap of needing office politics to get ahead, ask your manager or boss for a work rubric. A rubric can be as simple as a one-pager stating what you need to do and deliver in your job, or as complex as a multi-page document with success formulas. But in either case, when you know what you’re being judged against (and what you need to do to be considered successful), you don’t have any need for office politics. What’s more is that when you’re focused on delivering in your job, people may realize you aren’t taking part in office politics and stop trying to involve you in it.

The best part of having a work rubric is that you’re more likely to be successful when you know what’s expected of you at work. That usually results in faster promotions and more career success anyway, so you’re already getting ahead.

2 – Focus on your work and hobbies

Hobbies outside work help keep everything in perspective

Office politics takes up a lot of time. You spend your breaks and lunches gossiping or trying to get a moment of the boss’ time then suddenly it’s 5 pm and you haven’t accomplished much. It’s no wonder people think they need favoritism to get ahead – they aren’t doing much work. So if you want to avoid office politics, a great way to do it is to focus on your job and your hobbies outside of work.

When you spend your time thinking about your job and your hobbies outside work, you naturally take up time. When you do that, you don’t have time to take part in office politics. So even if someone tries to pull you into the drama, you’ll simply be too busy. Besides, people with hobbies are more productive at work, so you’re likely to outpace your office politics-focused peers.

If you don’t have any major hobbies outside of work, consider trying one. It can be something simple, like reading a good book, all the way up to a complex hobby like restoring old motorcycles. Either way, having something to work on for fun flexes your mental muscles and gives you something to engage with that isn’t office politics.

1 – Make a career map and plan career goals

If you know where you want to go in your career, office politics play less of a role

Since office politics is all about getting ahead, people think that it will solve their career problems for them. If they only get that one promotion or the boss recognizes their genius, they will be set. But the reality is different: most gains from office politics are short-term, meaning that you’ll have to continue working harder and harder to get to the next level. A much easier way to get ahead is to map out your career and pick goals that are fulfilling to you. Perhaps you want to become rich. Perhaps you just want a great lifestyle with comfortable weekends. Or something in the middle.

No matter what you want, an easy way to rid your life of office politics is to know your own goals and chart your own path. When you have a plan and know your goals, you can bring it up to your manager in a professional way and talk with them about how to make your goals a reality (or at least part of them).

If your manager doesn’t support you and your career goals, it may be time to look for a new job – a lack of advancement opportunities is a major reason people quit their jobs, so you wouldn’t be alone.

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