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Win at office politics without selling your soul

You don't have to resort to backstabbing to win the battle of office politics. Try these high-road strategies and feel good about how you play.

Win at office politics without selling your soul

Ever notice how some mediocre employees rise while more competent ones languish? Often, it's because they know how to play office politics.

I know, I know. You'd like to think you can succeed purely on your merits. In some offices you can, but in many others, you must know how to play the game. Here's how to win at office politics -- without selling your soul.

Positive Politics

In office politics, as in most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once a coworker or boss is out to get you, it's hard to avoid being stabbed in the back. Play positive politics, though, and your coworkers and bosses will probably turn any stabbing instincts elsewhere. Here are a few of my favorite positive politics strategies:

  • Ask Respected Higher-Ups for Counsel Periodically: Encourage them to think of you as a protege, and they're more likely to defend you when you need it.
  • Perform Deliberate Acts of Kindness: Stay late one night to help a coworker on a deadline. Send a handwritten thank-you note to the person who gave you that Word tip.
  • Do Visible, Important Tasks: If such tasks aren't in your job description, ask if you can take one on. Be sure everyone knows you did the work. For example, you might email key employees a draft of your project's final report, "for feedback," ensuring your boss or rival doesn't try to steal the credit.

Keep Your Antennae Out

Sometimes, despite playing positive politics, someone will want you to look bad -- if only because he wants that promotion you're vying for. You can't respond to his machinations unless you know who the perpetrator is. Here are a few ways to find out:

  • Are you being kept out of the information loop or lacking the resources you need to do your job? Who's behind that?
  • At meetings, does someone always seem to disagree with you, if not verbally, then by sighing, rolling his eyes or appearing not to pay attention when you're speaking?
  • When you ask someone for support or advice, do you get the sense he's annoyed?
  • When you talk one-on-one with your suspected saboteur, does he always seem eager to cut the conversation short?

When You Feel You're Losing the Game

You have the sense that someone's sabotaging you. Now what? Hopefully, by having kept your antennae out, you know who that person is. Here are some strategies for foiling him:

  • Get Feedback from a Supporter: Say something like, "I'm concerned Matt is annoyed with me. Have you noticed that? Anything you think I should do?"
  • Respond with Strength: If your saboteur tries to put you down, especially in front of others, don't wimp out. Make a strong response, perhaps using humor. For example, you're proposing a solution to a problem at a meeting. Throughout your presentation, Joe is slouching, doodling and rolling his eyes. You might say something like, "Joe, it looks like my idea is putting you to sleep. Either you went to quite a party last night, or you have a better solution. Care to share it?"
  • Quietly Confront the Backstabber: For example, "I've noticed that you seem annoyed with me. Is there anything I'm doing wrong?" If you get useful feedback, fine. Thank him and offer to work on improving. If, however, you sense that his reason for annoyance is unjustified, you need to be strong. For example, you might say, "Matt, you're withholding key information from me. Things need to change, or I'll have to go to the boss."
  • Inoculate: Tell others you're concerned this person is unfairly trying to denigrate you for selfish gain. Point to specific evidence of unfairness, or you may be perceived as the backstabber.

Chances are, though, if you play positive politics, you'll never have to go into attack mode.

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