Office politics are fraught with difficulty. Almost nobody likes dealing with office politics, and it’s the people who do enjoy it that you have to worry about.
The key to winning at office politics is to stop wishing it will go away and to start learning how to thrive in your workplace’s political environment. You don’t have to dive right into the seedy underbelly of office politics to win the game; you win by playing smart and knowing when and how it’s worth getting involved.
1. Learn the lay of the land.
Whether you just started a new job or just realized that avoiding office politics is detrimental to your career, you have to begin by figuring out exactly what’s going on. Your office is full of allies and rivals, and, if you watch and listen closely, you can get a pretty good sense of who’s aligned with whom.
2. Build broad alliances.
One of the smartest things you can do is to build alliances throughout the company so that you’ll have a foot in as many of the political camps as possible. If you accomplish this and show people across the board that they can rely on you, you’ll stand a good chance of coming out ahead, no matter which political camp is currently “winning.” You also won’t be left out of the cold if a group of allies leaves the company.
3. Keep your eyes on the goal.
Remind yourself, as many times as it takes, that you’re not engaging in office politics for fun or to be one of “them;” you’re doing it for two reasons: career success and job fulfillment. Gossiping, backstabbing, manipulating, and the rest are not needed to win at office politics. Keeping your eyes on the goal lets you develop and maintain a strategic approach for dealing with your workplace’s unique political atmosphere.
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4. Keep things win-win.
Navigating office politics works best when you follow the golden rule of negotiating: end with everybody feeling like they won. Instead of trying to defeat an opponent, spend that time and energy thinking about how you can both get what you want. This is how you play the game smart.
5. Never pit rivals against one another.
One situation that everybody dreads is getting caught between two warring parties. In a situation like that, it’s easy to tell each of them what they want to hear, even if that’s just nodding in agreement when they bad-mouth each other. But fake allegiances are always exposed in the long run, and then, neither of the people you were trying to impress will trust you again. Instead, steer your conversations back to the facts: What decisions need to be made? What are the next steps? What can I do to help improve this situation?
6. Stick to your principles.
Finally, you must stick to your principles, without fail. Before taking any action that’s fueled by office politics, ask yourself why you’re doing it. If you’re motivated by fear, revenge, or jealousy, don’t do it. If it conflicts with your values and beliefs about fair behavior, it’s better not to get involved.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editor.