How to survive office politics

Whether you like it or not, office politics exist in any business, no matter how large or small. It can mean a lot of stress and upset, as people tend to make mistakes, fall out or just don't know how to behave with others or in certain situations.

But it's not as bad as you might think. Politics can actually be good for your career if you learn how to identify the political activity within your own company and use it effectively to help further your career. You might think it's better to ignore office politics but it's actually far more beneficial to get along with everyone and be a team player than isolating yourself from the crowd.

With all of the above in mind, I've put together the following top tips on how to deal with office politics, so you'll avoid tripping up and making your own mistakes and allow you to successfully handle any event, meeting or party thrown your way...

Listen and observe

When you start working at a new company, it's wise to stand back and do a lot of listening and observing before you do anything else. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut, as they say. You can learn an awful lot in those first few weeks, simply by figuring people out and seeing where the politics lie.

Assess the political situation

Figure out the power struggles and dominant players. Consider who to avoid and who to spend more time with in order to get a good insight into the office grapevine. This is also a good opportunity to see where you might fit in to the social mix. It's important to know what's going on in the company to help further your career.

Be careful who you trust

It's a sad fact of life but people can be untrustworthy. In business, they can be even more so. Therefore, don't trust anyone at work and certainly be wary of people who share something 'in confidence' because it's likely they'll be sharing your own private matters to someone else in future. If you need to confide in someone about issues at work, talk to a family member or friend instead.

Don't believe the hype

When tapping in to the office grapevine, don't believe everything you hear. Rumours and misguided information often circulate around any company, so just be careful about using such information as it could be wrong.

Also, if someone is telling you something negative – you have to ask yourself what that person's motives are. Are they trying to spread malicious gossip? Or put you in hot water? I'm not saying you should become cynical of everything people say... just really think about what people are saying and try to read between the lines.

Don't get involved in negative gossiping

What is it with some people that they feel the need to bitch and complain about other people at work? A lack of confidence in their own abilities perhaps? A flash of the green-eyed monster because the boss said something nice about them? It's a shame but office politics can revert back to the playground.

Best piece of advice? Stay out of the negativity. But if you hear someone say something bitchy about an absent colleague, stand up for them! It may push you out of the gossip ring in the short term, but will gain you more respect in the long run.

Don't try to take sides, be everyone's pal

There will always be divisions and little social circles within companies, particularly larger ones. Although it may be tempting to take sides and join the more 'popular' social circle – for the old 'safety in numbers' type approach – it's better to try and stay friends with everyone. Become a neutral character, so to speak and avoid being associated with any one group.

Be diplomatic

Life would be so much easier if people didn't have egos or pride. But they do, so it's important to be diplomatic. What do I mean by this? Well, avoid offending anyone, smile and be positive, and know when to back down. Being diplomatic will make for a much easier work life and you'll find that you get along with everyone.

Keep your private life private

Don't make the mistake in thinking that work has anything to do with your personal life. It doesn't, so keep your personal stuff out of the office. Sharing too much personal information can be unprofessional. And try not to get romantically involved with anyone at work either. This is your job and you should try to remain professional at all times. Can't help yourself? Keep the relationship discreet and certainly don't show affection in the office.

Don't cry or get emotional

Avoid being emotional or even crying in the office. If you feel yourself welling up, walk calmly to the office toilets, let it all out and calm yourself down. Splash your face with cold water and even consider getting outside for some good old fresh air. A good tip to stop yourself from crying in the first place is to take lots of deep breaths, drink some cold water and even try pinching your armpit. It sounds crazy but it works! And if you do cry in front of colleagues? Don't worry about it – you're human. Just calm yourself, get on with your work and don't discuss the reason for your tears.

Keep a professional standing

So everyone's getting drunk at the office Christmas party and dancing on tables? It doesn't mean you have to join in. Sounds boring, I know. But work is work. Don't assume your work colleagues are the same as your friends. And remember, the boss will always be watching. It might've seemed funny to perform your rude party trick at the time but it won't do you any favours back at work on Monday morning.