Office Politics: Know the players and play to win

Office Politics Main

Office politics.

It just sounds dirty doesn’t it? Truly, I challenge you to think of a time when those words were said, and anything good followed.

Hard isn’t it?

If you haven’t yet felt the clean slap in the face that is the corporate political system, then I commend your choice of employer. I’d also like your recruiter’s phone number.

In my last few corporate jobs I’ve had a front row seat to different offices’ political hierarchies. The bad news is they’re hard to avoid and typically suck. On the plus side, the game of office politics can be played, and infiltrating your company’s hierarchy can be done. I know because I’ve done it. Three times.

In any new job, you’re eager to jump in and start showing off what you can do, which is amazing. However, in most corporate teams, there’s a system in place for who does what. This, is not so amazing. Most office hierarchies are set up so certain people are responsible certain tasks. This maintains order and efficiency, but kills a young professional’s chances of ever proving their value beyond a certain skill set. You can be really good at what you do, but promotions will likely go to those who can work the system.

So how do you play the game? It’s as simple as knowing who the players are and how to play them. Watch the last 20 minutes of any Gossip Girl episode and you’ll know what I mean.


The Cube Mate - Office Politics

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Player: The Cube Mate 

You know them by: They sit right next to you. You have similar titles and tag-team most work projects. They’re your work bestie because you tell them what you really do on the weekend, but if he or she says something stupid in a meeting, your first thought is probably “good, now I look smarter.”

Scale of player difficulty: Depends. Sorority girls for instance, were bread for office politics, so check her LinkedIn before evaluating. On a scale of one to ten, be safe and always assume above a five with this one.

How to play: Discretion is key, because despite being in competition with them, you’re not in the business of throwing anyone under the bus. You may work really well together, but ultimately you must differentiate yourself to be successful. At my first job, I loved my “cube mate”, but after a while I sensed that to everyone else, we looked the same. I needed to take ownership of something and I needed to do it fast. I asked our supervisor if I could sit in on a few other project meetings that were of interest to me and she said yes. Sure enough she began to pass along more work and responsibility. When I got questions from my cube mate about all the additional work, I was honest but vague. If and when she asked to contribute I was prepared to delegate to her while still maintaining ownership of the project.



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Player: The Boss 

You know them by: If you don’t know this person, we have bigger problems.

Scale of player difficulty: Often tough cookies to crack, but once you do, they can be sweet as pie.

How to play: Your job here is simple. Everything you do should be done with the intention of making your boss’s life easier. When you’re starting out and learning, your success is your boss’s success. Basically you have to suck it up and make them look good for a while before you shine on your own. I found it’s best to pay close attention to your boss – where do their skills fall short, or what areas are they unable to dedicate time too? Now fill that void. I once had a boss who struggled with project management, so I put a lot of focus on keeping track of where all our content pieces were. One of the best emails I received in my career was from that boss, it said,

“Wow Meredith,  lately I feel like you’re thinking of things and knowing where projects are at before I’m even thinking of them. Thank you so much for all your help”.

And just like that, I felt my entry-level title start to slip away.


 The Director - Office Politics

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Player: The Director

You know them by: They occasionally come to meetings, but mostly you wonder what it is they do all day. It’s OK though because seeing your boss get nervous to present to them is oddly satisfying.

Scale of player difficulty: 8.5 – keeping in mind the hardest part will probably be getting face time.

How to play: The goal with a “director” is to develop a mentor/mentee relationship. They’re not  your direct boss or managing your daily tasks, so use this person as a resource to talk less about your “work” and more about your “career”. Begin by reaching out to them about meeting one on one to talk career goals and aspirations. Focus the conversation on how they got to where they are now (directors LOVE talking about themselves), and then continue to follow up every-so-often.

Bonus points: Find something you can offer them. In my last job my director was constantly looking for different workouts to try, so I would send her promo codes for classes that a friend of mine taught. To her, I wasn’t just another face on her team. I was someone on her radar. Someone she remembered and trusted. Ego-boosting questions and free workouts have that effect.


The Intern - Office Politics

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Player: The Team Intern

You know them by: They work for free but somehow come in every morning with a $4 Starbucks latte.

Scale of player difficulty: Please.

How to play: Interns are lowest on the totem pole, that much is obvious. What isn’t obvious is that they can actually be a significant asset to your professional success. If you’re seen as capable of managing an intern, then your way more likely to be seen as capable of managing others on your team. You and an intern may be close in age, but refrain from a gal pal relationship with them. Instead serve as their professional mentor and resource at the company. Spend time teaching them how to do things, and offer actual feedback on their work. You’ll find that being a good young manager pays off. Someone under you will have your back, and your superiors will likely see you as qualified to take over more work.


The Office Socialite - Office Politics

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Player: The Office Socialite

You know them by: They typically run the company’s external Facebook Page, take pictures of co-workers dressed in similar-looking outfits, and bring munchkins for everyone on Fridays.  

Scale of player difficulty: Harder than they seem. These ones are territorial, so proceed with caution.

How to play: These days company “culture” is a buzz word for HR, and corporations doing anything they can to create a fun and social work environment. The designated “office socialite” is the company’s go-to employee for keeping morale high and social events on the calendar. Therefore associating yourself with this person can only help your clout in the office. The key is to approach them with something to offer but not act like you’re taking over their role. For instance, offer to help them plan the next employee happy hour and suggest a local bar where you have a connection and could potentially get a discount. If YOU become their go-to person for good ideas, you’re winning the game darling.


Who are your office’s players?  How do you deal with hierarchies in the workplace