You engage in office politics. Most people will have a knee-jerk reaction to this statement: immediate denial accompanied by a sense of outrage at being tarred with such a brush.

Look closer, though, and you will understand that most of our interactions in the workplace are rooted in a desire to be seen as competent. By their very essence and regardless of intent, those interactions fall within the ambit of “office politics”. Perceptive leaders differentiate between ethical and unethical office politics.

Here are five ways that you can engage with your team (and beyond) to forge strong bonds without straying into the realm of manipulation and pettiness commonly associated with the pejorative term “office politics.”

  • Be authentic – Don’t always weigh the social pros and cons before voicing an opinion; it is okay to not be on the side of the majority. Resist the social pressure that demands you conform. In the long run, your independence and authenticity will cement your reputation as an unflappable leader and trustworthy colleague.
  • Remain neutral – It is tempting to be part of a clique for the camaraderie and social interaction, but only engage to the point at which it does not cloud your judgement and decisions. In the greater scheme of things, few will fault you for being friendly but overtly factional words and actions will place a target on your back.
  • Don’t gossip – And do not encourage or entertain gossipers, either. We may hear colleagues talk about a co-worker’s professional shortcomings when, in reality, these are just thinly-veiled personal attacks. When someone does voice such criticisms to you, ask them whether they have brought their concerns to the attention of the person they are speaking of. Suggest that they do so.
  • Actively engage – It is easier to be both a perpetrator and victim of negative office politics when you are isolated from the people around you. Circumvent this by forging relationships with colleagues and make the time to connect with them without an agenda. Over time, this network of relationships will make all of you less likely to want to engage in destructive office politics.
  • Stay above it all – Despite our best efforts, we occasionally will come across individuals who give office politics its bad reputation. Follow the guidelines above but also remember to not react every time that happens. Instead, glide above the machinations, unencumbered by trivial things. That dignity and sangfroid are attractive traits in a leader.

The pandemic has shown us that office politics are here to stay, even when team members are not present in the same physical location. However, by engaging in a meaningful and constructive way, i.e., to build relationships instead of fracture them, you can turn the perceived negativity into a strong asset for everyone concerned. If you’re unsure how to navigate the office politics within your organization – or want to improve them – feel free to reach out.