Not Your Traditional Office Politics

I spent years in deep denial about office politics. I flatly

refused to believe it was necessary to “play” politics in

order to succeed. And – with a symbolic if not actual

stamp of my foot – if it was necessary, then I’d sacrifice

my career on the altar of my disdain!

Many people confound themselves with the same denial and the

same definition of office politics: bad, deceitful, backstabbing,

brown-nosing – all of the slimy things we often think of, both in

and out of the office, when we hear the word “politics.”

Many years later, and after teaching myself and others to

navigate successfully through a lot of political undercurrents,

my viewpoint has turned around completely. Successful

personal politics, both at home and in the office, is nothing

more – and certainly nothing less – than the art of

understanding and practicing meaningful, alert, and complete


Let’s look at these three components individually.

Meaningful communication has a wide scope, ranging from

avoiding the use of jargon and overly technical explanations,

to simply being sure we’re giving our audience what they need.

It means giving a useful answer that takes the questioner’s

context into consideration, instead of one that adheres only to

the letter of what was asked. It encompasses compassion,

understanding when someone needs help even when he or

she hasn’t said so.

Alert communication means that we’re paying attention to what’s

going on around us. When someone does, asks for, or objects

to something, the alert communicator has a pretty good idea

what’s behind those actions: we understand the context within

which the person is operating (or at a minimum, we recognize

that this context is there). When we understand the context –

whether or not we agree with it – we can participate in a

solution where everyone wins, or at least no one loses. When

we are alert to communication on all levels – verbal and

nonverbal, including action or lack of action – we can prepare

for whatever happens, instead of being startled by it.

Complete communication is akin to “the truth, the whole truth,

and nothing but the truth.” It means leaving nothing out – but it

doesn’t mean using the truth as a blunt instrument to make

others feel or look bad. It means providing the context when

we ask for something, so that others can understand the why

behind our request, and see how their response fits into a

bigger picture. And it means saying the important things to

friends and family instead of assuming that they know how

we feel.

Just like any tool, political ability can be turned to good

uses or bad. I can use a hammer to smash a priceless

piece of art, or I can use it to tap a finishing nail into a

beautiful piece of furniture. In either case, it’s not the

hammer that caused the end result; it’s what I’ve done

with the hammer.

Likewise, I can use my political ability to undermine others,

turn their ideas into mine, and inflict guilt on anyone who

fails to meet my expectations. But I’d much rather take

the skills I’ve learned – and they can be learned, though

they’re not often taught in today’s schools – to help others

succeed, applaud their achievements, and be clear about

what I want and need so others can give me the gift of


Article written by Grace L. Judson.