How to Win at Office Politics Every. Damn. Time.

Within eight minutes of sending my email I had received eleven replies, including responses from two vice presidents, three directors and my boss, plus two phone calls to my desk and one high importance flag.

My innocent email with the subject, “Quick question about training,” went viral in the worst way possible.

I was on the job for less than four weeks and I had already created a huge fiasco.

My boss stepped in and said, “Robbie did not intend to send this email,” and those were the magic words needed to end the drama I had started.

Here’s what I’ve learned about winning at office politics.

#1 – To win at office politics you must know who is most likely to cause drama.

Here are the questions I ask to determine this information:

  • Are there certain people that I should think twice about before emailing?
  • Are there certain people that I should always call or talk to in person instead of emailing?

#2 – Telling yourself, “I don’t engage in office politics, I tell it like it is,” is a dumb tactic that will get you into trouble.

Ask a pregnant woman how much weight she’s gained in the past few months and, when she gets mad at you, tell her that you were genuinely curious and didn’t mean any harm by it.

She won’t believe you no matter what you say, and that is one relationship you’ll have to work hard at reviving. Which brings me to my next point.

#3 – You HAVE to engage in office politics to WIN at office politics.

Engaging in office politics doesn’t mean you have to play games to win. Rather it means that you have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings.

Here are questions I always ask my contacts in any new environment.

  • Are there sensitive topics that I shouldn’t discuss without talking to you first?
  • Can you draw an organizational chart for me?
  • Who should my main point of contact be for this project?
  • Is there a certain process I should follow for this task? Is it okay if I talk to this person first?
  • With whom should I be engaging?

#4 – Shut Up

If I’d never sent that email I wouldn’t have created a fiasco.

Instead, I should have just shut my mouth and asked my manager directly. If you are new to an office environment you should be listening 95% of the time. If you have a question and are in a large group, write the question down and ask after the meeting is over.

The thing with office politics is that you don’t know what the trigger words are.

#5 – Know the trigger words

Every office has trigger words that get everyone up in a frenzy once someone blurts them out.

In my case the word “training” was a trigger word because there was a controversial organizational change going on and “training” meant that we were training resources to replace other resources. I didn’t know that but it was why my email got out of control. There was a process for training and my email inferred that I wanted to follow a different process.

That was not my intention.

#6 – Follow the fear

Sometimes people act irrationally, even in response to a well-worded email or question.

This usually happens when a boss is sending fear down the management chain, thus making everyone act differently. The more you understand about where the fear is coming from, the better you can navigate office politics.

#7 – Avoid “reply to all” like it’s the plague

There is a 99.9999% chance you didn’t need to reply to all.

Here is the rule of thumb. Unless 100% of the recipients will find your information useful, only reply directly to the sender.

“Reply all” is too often the cause of office drama.

#8 – No matter how hard you try you will not be able to avoid office politics, even in a

friendly environment.

The winning strategy is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. – Stephen Covey

#9 – Never start drama on a Friday

Let’s just say you ignore all my advice and you want to start drama.

  • Best time to start drama: Monday afternoon.
  • Worst time to start drama: Friday afternoon.

The problem with office politics on Friday is that it can run over into the weekend and then start again on Monday. It will ruin your weekend because all you can think about is the politics in the office.

Do us all a favor. If you’re going to cause problems, cause it on a Monday so it doesn’t ruin everyone’s weekend.

#10 – There are only losers in office politics, never winners

I know my post is titled, “How to win at office politics every single time,” but the truth is there are no winners, just losers.

If you find yourself in a heated battle trying to prove that you were right and someone else was wrong, you’ve already lost the battle.

PS: Read the only resignation letter template you’ll ever need.