How Office Politics Work

How to Play Office Politics: Using Office Politics to Get Ahead

You don't have to step on your coworkers to get ahead.
You don't have to step on your coworkers to get ahead.
Daniel Swallow/Stone/Getty Images

­I­mproving coworker relations is one thing, but if you want to make a big difference in a company, you'll probably have to aim high and compete for promotions -- at least this is how it works in the United States. This is ethically possible as long as you behave respectfully toward other people and you're willing to refuse to violate your own sense of morals -- even if it means losing your job. And there are other ways to ingratiate yourself with your boss aside from brownnosing.

Even though office politics runs rampant through all companies, every office is different. So you can't play office politics unless you know exactly how decisions are made at your workplace. Whether you just started a new job or are a long-term employee, you should look at the power infrastructure at your company.

Expert Louellen Essex suggests you study the culture and values of an organization. She also suggests adopting a role model you respect and who has attained a powerful position in your company. By studying his or her political skills and imitating his or her effective behavior, you're more likely to make a difference [source: Zupek].


Unless you're an expert office politician, you won't get anywhere unless you've proven yourself to some degree. To climb the corporate ladder, you usually can't rely on empty words and promises, but you must be able to impress the higher-ups with a good reputation backed by solid accomplishments. That's not to say your political skills can't help you do this. In fact, political skill might be the best tool. This is where the alliances you formed with coworkers really pay off. Landing a big account or succeeding at a large project usually requires help from all sides, and if you've done well, you can call your allies into action.

­Unfortunately, it's possible no one will notice your accomplishments unless you tell them and remind them. Essex suggests that you should occasionally brag -- as diplomatically as possible -- about your achievements even when you're not interviewing for an open position [source: Zupek]. If this seems difficult or even unnatural, try to at least convey how proud you are to have made a difference for the company.

Related Articles

More Great Links



  • Davidson, Wilma, et al. "Most Likely to Succeed at Work." Macmillan, 2003. [Sept. 4, 2008]
  • Dobson, Michael Singer, Deborah Singer Dobson. "Enlightened Office Politics." AMACOM Division of American Management Association, 2001. [Sept. 4, 2008]
  • Dwyer, Kelly Pate. "How to Win at Office Politics" BNET.
  • Essex, Louellen, Mitchell Kusy. "Playing the 'Office Politics' Game." T+D; March 2008, Vol. 62, Issue 3.
  • Ferris, Gerald R. et al. "Political Skill at Work." "Organizational Influence Processes." Ed. Lyman W. Porter, et al. M.E. Sharpe, 2003. [Sept. 3, 2008]
  • Ferrris, Gerald R. "Political Skill At Work." Davies-Black Publishing, 2005. [Sept. 4, 2008]
  • Fisher, Anne. "Play office politics without getting dirty." CNNMoney. Nov. 30, 2007. [Sept. 4, 2007]
  • Lancaster, Hal. "Managing your career: You can be good at office politics without being a jerk." Wall Street Journal. Mar. 18, 1997.
  • McIntyre, Marie. "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Macmillan, 2005. [Sept. 4, 2008]
  • Rivenbark, Leigh. "Political Skill At Work." HRMagazine. Dec. 1, 2005. [Sept. 4, 2008]
  • Zupek, Rachel. "Office politics: How to play the game." CNN. July 16, 2008. [Sept. 4, 2008]
  • Zupek, Rachel. "Ways to win at office politics." CNN. March 10, 2008. [Sept. 4, 2008]