By Larry Buhl
The campaign trail isn't the only place to find political players -- your office may be loaded with them as well. In a 2012 survey by staffing firm Robert Half International, 56 percent of surveyed employees said they have observed political maneuverings on the job. These activities included gossiping, flattering the boss to gain favor and taking credit for others' work.
"I think in uncertain times like these, people are even more sensitive to political undercurrents in the office," says Josh Warborg, district president for Accountemps, a Rober Half company. But office politicians are real, and a little understanding of the types and how they operate can help you avoid getting burned, Warborg says.
These are the four common types of players and Warborg's advice for handling them:
- The Pundit loves to speculate about what's happening around the office. He may have good information, or he may just like to gossip. For dealing with this type, listen, but don't share too much information if you don't want to end up in the rumor mill.
- The Lobbyist is always championing his projects. But he doesn't always have the best ideas, and he's usually not willing to hear dissenting opinions. Be aware of the agendas he's pushing, carefully evaluate the merit of the issues when he asks for your support, and be willing to stand up for the better idea, Warborg says.
- The Covert Operator is a charmer, and tries to get ahead through manipulation rather than good ideas and hard work. This person will criticize coworkers and take credit for other people's projects. Stand up for yourself if you're on the receiving end of such smears and make sure the leadership understands your ideas are better (if they really are). But don't respond with hostility or your own covert actions.
- The Adviser is tight with a company's leadership and serves as their eyes and ears. This type may not be a negative influence; many are senior aides or executive assistants and have earned their place in the organization. But because they wield significant behind-the-scenes influence, it's important to tread carefully. Work to develop a good rapport with them, without resorting to gossipmongering or obsequiousness, Warborg says.
The best way to avoid the most poisonous office politics, Warborg suggests, is to look for the warning signs before you're hired. "If you're being interviewed by people who badmouth others on the team or disclose sensitive information, it's a sign that the company may not have a culture of meritocracy."
If your office is a political minefield and you don't have the option of leaving, Warborg recommends doing what your parents and grandparents told you to do: Keep your nose to the grindstone.
"Work hard, focus on results and have a good attitude," he says. "If an employer sees you doing these things, it should take you far, no matter what kind of political environment you're in."