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Posted: January 26, 2010

Eight secrets to winning the game of office politics

Play well -- or eat somebody else's dust

John Heckers

"I hate playing politics." I have heard this at least hundreds of times in my years of consulting to transitioning executives. Those who play politics are seen as toadies, butt kissers and dishonest, and portrayed as such by the media.

But the reality is a bit different. Those who play politics well wind up at the top, and very rapidly. Those who are too stinking proud to play politics usually wind up with lower positions, lower salaries, and very limited opportunities to influence the direction of their workplace. The trick is not to refuse to play politics, but to play politics well. Here are some quick tips.

1). "Keep friends close, keep enemies closer." This ancient advice is still viable for today's corporate life. Too many people only interact with their allies in a corporation. Those on the way up, however, interact with everyone, whether they like them or not.

2). Turn enemies into allies. Today's junior jerk is tomorrow's senior partner...or could be. Generally speaking, there is very little rhyme or reason to who gets promoted in large corporations. While some minor degree of competence and diligence are usually required in small companies, it is clear to most of the American people that this is far from true in the mega-corporations.

So it is important, especially if you're working in a larger corporation, to turn those junior jerks into allies insofar as possible. Do them a favor or two, take them out to lunch...whatever. Also understand, however, that these junior jerks don't necessarily play by the rules. They might still be enemies after you've done things for them. That's corporate life. Live with it.

3). Don't burn bridges. Remain, so far as possible, on good terms with everyone. Don't go out of your way to get even, or to rattle someone's cage.

4). Keep humor out of the office. The class clown rarely winds up as the CEO. Your sense of humor might not be appropriate for the office, or may be way over the heads of your co-workers. Almost any joke which is actually funny can offend some folks. Wordplays are often lost on people. Humor usually just identifies you as someone who is not trustworthy.

5). Keep romance out of the office. The quickest way to derail your career is to get into an office romance. If Cupid shoots his arrows at you and a co-worker, one of you should start looking for another job immediately if you want both your career and the relationship to last.

6). Keep your personal life out of the office. Separate pretty completely your work life and personal life. While all of us will have people we're friends with from the office, living out your personal life at the office is deadly to your career. If you must talk about your personal life, everything is idyllic. You've got a great spouse, fantastic kids, and you have it all. Bosses don't trust employees with home problems.

7). Be very careful about office friendships. A friend gets a glimpse at your inner self. That is the last thing you want a colleague to get. Colleagues can become competitors or even enemies. Before you get too close to someone you work with, ask yourself two questions. A). "Has a friend ever turned on me in the past?" and B). :What would happen to my career if this person I'm considering as a friend were to turn on me and become an enemy." If you're still comfy and cozy, go ahead and let that person in. Just remember that you were once in love and completely trusted your ex-husband or ex-wife, too.

8). Get real about work. Work is work. It can be very satisfying. But it isn't the whole of your life, though, these days, it may seem like it. When you're at work you need to keep your mask on. Most people aren't enlightened enough to accept the real you, whatever that is. Keep your mask on and your guard up. Stay alert for threats and challenges. It's the jungle rules, folks!

Your work is your livelihood. Those who watch their backs and play politics well are those who move up in the organization. Those who think that they can be themselves at work wind up ceilinged in junior positions. This is why they call it "work," and not "play." Remember who and where you are at all times, and grasp every opportunity that comes your way.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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