Office politics can help you get ahead

Nov. 5, 2003
The skinny on office politics and getting ahead

Our human nature makes us political animals, and politics extends into the workplace. According to one definition, office politics represents attempts to curry support based on personal relationships rather than merit. In the rare, enlightened business environment, office politics is less about trying to be a low-down, back-stabbing brown-noser than it is about getting interesting job assignments that enhance one's long-term career, the real payoff with well-played office politics. You may need to learn about behavior modification to get those plum assignments, though.

To help you advance you career without really trying, this month, Russ Kratowicz, Executive Editor, dives into the morass we call the Web in search of the pearls--those zero-cost, non-commercial, registration-free resources we all love and cherish.

Defining it

So, what are we talking about when we say office politics? Richard Lowe provides an answer, sort of, in his article Office Politics Defined. Rather than giving a direct answer, he uses vignettes and anecdotes that provide more insight into a nuanced definition of this elusive topic. Go to, where you'll see the main article and links to three side stories.

A page on office politics by iVillage UK Limited presents links to a collection of brief tutorials and one-issue Q&A pieces. Visit,,156475,00.html to start searching.

The good and the bad

In April 1998, the Boston-based magazine Fast Company ran an article by senior editor Michael Warshaw, titled The Good Guy's (and Gal's) Guide to Office Politics. It's worth reading the 3,400-word article because Warshaw makes a clear distinction between the "good" and "bad" types of office politics and shows how to use office politics to make good things happen. Point your mouse at and grab an interesting read.

A good tool

If you plan to participate only in "good" office politics, be sure to read Three Magic Words by Marty Nemko. The article is short, but offers powerful advice that could change the way that your coworkers view you. Click over to for the details.

Preventing it

The bad type of office politics should be eradicated, just like the smallpox it is. Frank James at The James Gang Advertising Inc., Toronto, Ontario, brings you the wisdom of a variety of HR professionals on the topic. Mouse your way over to and click on How to battle office-politics, found in the lower left of the page. This takes you to his selection of short, easy-to-read tips and tricks contributed by the people in the political trenches.


Coworkers are the number one on-the-job stressor, as the next site notes, but learning to deal with them can establish you as a capable individual. You might even enjoy working again. Coping with the eight types of work groups and the six types of people in those groups is the message contained in Corporate Survival: Dealing with people in the corporate culture by Edward B. Toupin. I'm sure you'll recognize some of the characters he describes at

A site full of advice

Gerald Graham, dean of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University, is the author of Eliminate office politics and end many problems in companies. In it, he offers practical suggestions for reducing the impact of politics. But that's not all you'll find at After Graham's page loads, read his article and then take advantage of the links to several other articles about office politics just to the right of the article itself.

Body language

Researchers say much of our communication is contained in our movements, delivery and facial expressions, and relatively little in the words we choose. A big part of "making it look good" is actually looking good. To make it happen, you need to know something about body language, that unspoken way of communicating that transmits more content than words ever could.

In his article, Body language can deliver your message, author Matthew Osborn says that managers don't need to understand problem details, they need to understand what it takes to get people to address and solve problems. He illustrates his point with an anecdote about a manager of few words who used eye contact most effectively. It's a short article that makes a strong point, so focus your baby-blues on,2000029576,20272317,00.htm .

The popular press tries to attach profound meaning to even the most insignificant and mundane body position and movement. The business world needs something a bit simpler. Take, for instance, Decoding body language, an article by John Mole. He reduces body language to two dimensions--open/closed and forward/back--which results in four possible postures--responsive, reflective, combative and fugitive. The link at the bottom of the piece offers access to sketches of people in the postures. So, wake up your mouse and point it at

No doubt, you've seen members of our mighty military on television delivering a briefing. Regardless of who's on screen, their delivery has a common look and feel. That's the result of training. To find out how they do it, you need to visit the RDL, or Reimer Digital Library, which is shorthand for the General Dennis J. Reimer Training and Doctrine Digital Library, a site that bills itself as an electronic library that's the single repository of approved Army training and doctrine information. Please direct your attention, sir, to, where you'll find ST7000 Section C-Presentation, a page that identifies public speaking pitfalls and suggests ways to deliver briefings more smoothly. Body language is a big part of it, but the other suggestions outlined in the article could serve well in dealing with colleagues in the plant and customers across the table.

Tell your unemployed friends and recent college graduates about What body language says, by Hilary Freeman, which offers help for looking good when interviewing for a job, another venue in which body language is of critical importance. The piece argues that saying what you mean and meaning what you say synchronizes verbal and non-verbal communication. Check it out at,10393,509505,00.html.

International gestures

Winston Churchill once said that the UK and America are two countries separated by a common language. That separation may well extend to body language. For examples of UK body language, can be accessed at

But, the UK isn't the only place in the world that's not America. People in other countries also use body language that simply doesn't translate well here. Some of the material about foreign body language detailed at seems strange enough to border on pure fabrication. Check it out and decide for yourself, though.

If you plan to travel to the Far East for work or pleasure, Gestures: Body Language and Nonverbal Communication, by Gary Imai, at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, would be highly relevant. The article explains in detail what body language is acceptable and what isn't in these countries. The page is long, and, after reading for a while, you may start to think that some of the material is fiction. When you get to the part that explains American body language to the Asians, though, you realize that we're a bit weird in this country, too. So, beckon you mouse to and learn something useful.

Perception is reality, especially when it comes to your direct reports. Many managers don't realize that body language and voice send unintended or contradictory messages. The same managers wonder why the ultimate outcome wasn't what was expected or desired. Managing body language by Melissa Shaw, managing editor of Network World, offers a bit of practical advice about internal consistency. Be totally unambiguous when you order li'l old mousie to fetch the goods at and http://www.nwfusion.........0707manage2.html.

Bend it like Carosi

On any given day, the most-watched people in the UK are probably the referees at a soccer game. How they conduct themselves and the body language they use is readily apparent to even the most causal observer. And, body language during a match is important. The folks watching from the stands are passionate about what happens with those zebra-tone balls. Julian Carosi is the webmaster responsible for posting the Body Language, an article found at The piece discusses some of the finer, perhaps finest, points concerning behavior while wearing the striped shirt. By the way, if you're a ref for your child's soccer league, you might want to visit the rest of Carosi's site, where you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about the practical aspects of the job.

Dog training

Without a doubt, a keen observer and consummate interpreter of body language is the pooch you've got at home. Make no mistake about it, those wee beasties take in everything happening around them, especially when it involves their erect, bipedal meal ticket. Command your mouse to sit on for an overview of the matter. Dogs don't spend a lot of time chewing the fat (so to speak) with other dogs, yet they communicate among themselves quite effectively without words. If you find your mouse barking up the tree at, it's the right one. Then, if you look up, you'll see Using dog behavior and communication is how you let your dog know that you're a high ranking family pack member, an article that shows how to behave if you want to retain the privilege afforded the alpha dog-person in your familial pack. You won't need office politics to rule that roost.

Remember. we're never going to eliminate office politics. Without it, work life would be far less entertaining, perhaps even boring. But understanding it can help you make it work for you.

Lighter side

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