How to Stay Switzerland in the Midst of Office Politics

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Working in an office doesn’t look quite like everyone’s favorite Netflix show. One thing does ring true from the show, however, and that is you will have to work with a wide array of people when you work in an office. With those differences come office politics. Understanding how to deal with the ins and outs of the unspoken rules can seem extremely intimidating. Why do Susan and Frank always seem to need to make a copy at the same time? Is there a reason everyone from marketing takes an extra-long lunch on Thursdays, and why they come back and can’t remember if the door to their office is a push or pull? Did Sam really forget to lock his car, again?

The key to navigating office politics is to seem oblivious to them as possible.

What are Office Politics?

Office politics are the unspoken rules by which everyone moderates themselves within an office. Yes, office politics include the items of gossip mentioned above, because anything from sucking up to social circles can affect work (and even advancement) in the office.

No one wants to be scrutinized and shunned, but the ways in which people attempt to ensure this fate doesn’t become theirs includes a wide range. Some go all in. They dive in and try to kick it with the big dogs right off the bat. Others look for the slow approach, gaining their peers’ trust and slowly working their way into the inner circles, and those exclusive Tuesday lunches and invites to weekend boat trips. There are also the ones who completely avoid getting involved. Choose your fate.

How to Navigate Office Politics

1. Stay confused

The best thing to say when avoiding office politics? “I didn’t even notice!” Come off as someone extremely focused on their work, not on Veronica buying the same shoes as Lydia. “I try not to get involved. I generally will act very neutral and not make many comments,” said the Odyssey Editor-in-Chief Kylie Compe. They can’t throw you under the bus when the drama blows up if you never involve yourself in the first place.

2. Respond to questions with another question

“What do you think of Shannon’s haircut…?” they ask. You respond with, “Oh, I didn’t even notice. Where’d she get it?” This shifts the gossip away from your opinion and back onto the person asking. If you never tell them your opinion, they don’t have the opportunity to twist your words, and by asking them a question you give them the chance to spill how they really feel about it. Which we all know they wanted to do anyway.

3. Refrain from giving your opinion

Okay, yes, it does totally bother you how Greg always, always seems to be humming the Spongebob theme song, but to avoid those office politics you can’t voice your opinion. You learn to love that theme song. Whatever it takes, do not join the gossip about Brett the one who hums all day. Learn to love that theme song, maybe even sing along? Make up your own words to it like, “Ohhhhhh, who lives in their cubicle and is always humming? BRETT THE HUMMER!” Or maybe just bring some headphones.

4. Find your role

No matter where you work, you should find out your role within the office. Office politics are going to happen around you whether you’re involved in them or not. “There’s also politics in the office like playing favorites, people always have others that they’re close with and will treat them differently,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Madison Dettmann. You have to find your place in the office to stay away from them as best as possible. Are you the confidant? Everyone comes to you, spills how they really feel and you both leave the conversation feeling great. They go to get something off their chest to someone who won’t say a word because they don’t want to be involved, and you didn’t have to do anything but listen.

5. Take the conversation on a ride

When worse comes to worse, sometimes people will see past your tricks of staying out of the conversation. You might have to act a little more directly. The, “Oh, I really don’t know her that well,” go-to will only last you so long as an office newbie. It can be hard to stay out of the conversation. “I think if politics comes up, which is so hard to ignore, and it isn’t a productive conversation, trying to steer the topic in a different direction is the best way to avoid conflict without announcing, “Alright, let’s not talk about this.” That one can get shaky and awkward and hard to recover from. If you connect whatever debate to asking them a personal story or bringing it out of the context of policy it could be a calmer, smoother transition,” said Georgetown junior Angie Newman.

How to Avoid Becoming the Office “Bully”

Overall, make yourself aware of office politics without participating. You don’t want to find your coworkers gossiping about how you have become the office bully yourself. “Be sure you think about what you’re going to say before you say it. You don’t want to make things uncomfortable in the workplace because you impulsively said something,” said Dettmann. Always be courteous of others. The golden rule still applies in the working life. Treat others how you wish to be treated. If you don’t want people talking about how you and Sam were making eyes at each other in the break room when you totally weren’t, you should extend the same courtesy to others.

Don’t make any enemies. Burning bridges is the last thing you want to do at your work. You never know who will come in handy down the road. If only you hadn’t made fun of Martha for how much she talked about her dog, maybe she would have recommended you for her position when she moved to San Diego.

Make those connections and get those skills endorsements on LinkedIn. Don’t piss off your co-workers with pointless drama.

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