Playing politics at work

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By Robert Half International

No matter where you work or what you do, there’s one thing almost every professional must deal with in the workplace: office politics. Most people don’t relish office politics, and many do their best to avoid it entirely. But understanding your organization’s political landscape can be beneficial to your career.

Consider this: Almost two-thirds of workers interviewed by Robert Half said involvement in office politics is at least somewhat necessary to get ahead today. The key is to remain attuned to workplace dynamics without getting drawn into power struggles or playing petty games.

In another Robert Half survey, 40 percent of workers polled characterized themselves as “occasional voters” when it comes to office politics. They get involved when an issue is important to them but remain outside the fray otherwise.

Of course, there are also people who take their involvement in office politics to the extreme. Here’s a rundown of some of the most prevalent political players in the office, along with tips for working with them:

The Gossip Hound. This person loves spreading rumors and can often be found hovering around the water cooler, speculating about a variety of sensitive issues. Keep your distance from the Gossip Hound and don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone directly. Although this person may provide accurate or relevant information on occasion, that’s not reason enough to allow yourself to be pulled into corrosive conversations.

The Credit Thief. This individual loves the spotlight and relishes taking credit for other people’s work. When something goes wrong, the Credit Thief is nowhere to be seen.

When collaborating with this person, document your contributions and provide regular updates to your supervisor so he is aware of your work. Don’t hesitate to correct misperceptions about who did what.

The Sycophant. “Shameless” is this person’s middle name — she will offer excessive flattery to anyone who is in a position of power, ignoring anyone below the highest levels.

Although it may be hard to watch, don’t sweat the Sycophant’s tactics. Most managers can see through this type of person. Also be sure to give kudos to deserving individuals, regardless of their position.

If the Sycophant displays a sudden shift in attitude toward you, be wary. She could be buttering you up for a favor.

The Saboteur. Watch your back when working with this person, who loves to play the blame game and make others look bad. Limit your interaction with this master manipulator, and don’t back down if the Saboteur’s tactics become apparent. Often, he will retreat when confronted.

The Lobbyist. The Lobbyist is passionate about her projects and ways of doing things. This individual advocates strongly for support but is often unreceptive to outside points of view.

When collaborating with the Lobbyist on projects, be aware of the agenda being pushed, and be willing to stand up for your ideas.

The Adviser. The office’s most influential people aren’t always the most high-ranking or high-profile employees. For example, this professional is often closely aligned with an executive and serves as his eyes and ears. Develop a good rapport with the Adviser because he could have a direct line to the top.

How you handle sensitive workplace dynamics can make or break your professional prospects. But navigating office politics doesn’t have to be complex. More than anything, it simply involves common sense, courtesy and compromise. Showcase your savvy by carefully observing your office environment — and the players who make up the scene — without getting mired in political pitfalls.

For more advice on keeping a positive political tone at work, download this free career guide: “How to Navigate Office Politics: Your Guide to Getting Ahead” at

Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at or follow us on Twitter at

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