Office Politics – Should I leverage it to further my career?

leverage office politicsEarly in my career, I have been burnt by office politics but not in the way you think.  I didn’t feel burnt because someone else sabotaged my job.  On the contrary, I concluded, I burnt myself because I didn’t understand or appreciate office politics and the importance of using it fairly and skillfully to protect and build my career advantage.

So my answer is: Yes, you should leverage office politics to further your career as long as it is not intentionally at the expense of others’ careers. Office politics usually conveys a negative connotation in pop culture.  However, I believe whenever there is a company with three or more employees, office politics exists.  If you don’t understand how to work with it and others do, you can potentially be at a disadvantage in your career.

In Wikipedia, “office politics” is defined as “the use of one’s individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one’s legitimate authority.”

I don’t agree for two reasons

  1. It implies unfair advantage at all times but I think office politics will exist even if no one in the office is intentionally trying to manipulate.  This is because each person in the office is a human being with aspirations, insecurities, power of influence, power of position, and personal perspective about others’ ability and contribution in the office.  Interaction between people will naturally create politics and fair office politics can exist.
  2. Your role in playing office politics is to influence those in positions of power/influence over your career to perceive favorably about your work and contribution.   This is a legitimate and valuable job skill.  Afterall, perception is reality.  You can further your career using this skill because not everyone understand office politics and knows how to best portray their work and contributions at the right time to the right people.  (stay tuned for a future newsletter article on How to deal with office politics?)

What gives office politics the negative connotation is because we only think of examples of those who play unfair office politics – someone who tries to sabotage other’s careers at the same time furthering their own.  I would re-define office politics in 3 bullets

  • “office politics” should be defined as “the use of one’s individual influence skills within an employing organization to protect or obtain advantage in their career.”
  • “fair office politics” by adding to the core definition “without intentionally sabotaging others’ jobs / careers”
  • “unfair office politics” by adding to the core definition “at the expense of others’ careers”

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Your comments: What do you think? I look forward to your comments!  Good luck on your job.  I am always in your corner!


11 thoughts on “Office Politics – Should I leverage it to further my career?”

  1. I have really enjoyed reading your articles so far. I am looking forward to exploring your blog and newsletter more fully. In the meantime, I do have a question. Not sure if this is the correct place to ask it. If is isn’t please excuse me and direct me to the proper place. Thanks!

    My first job after graduation was a nightmare for me. They didn’t have any written processes, didn’t tell me parts of my job until a month after I started, and my boss was in a power struggle with the head of another department which meant I got stuck in the middle. I was fired from this position and I think a lot of it had to do with both my inexperience in the position and office politics. I have been working in a factory for over a year because I can’t get anyone in my industry (accounting) to give me a shot after getting fired. How do I discuss this with interviewers and how do I keep it from happening again? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the great work!

    1. Amanda,

      Thanks for reaching out. First of all, were you laid off or fired? and also for what reason did they give you? I need to know more about the details if you want help with the story. You can set up a free coaching call with me if you are interested. see my policy here

      My immediate advice is don’t bring this up unless the interviewer ask. People leave jobs all the time because they quit, they were laid off, and on occasion, they were fired. Whatever the reason, don’t emphasize it. Instead focus your cover letter and resume and interview answer on your skills and fit for the position today. That’s what’s most important in finding a good job.

      You have to be confident first in your skills. It sounds like perhaps you are still blaming yourself for what happened. Try to get past it and focus on your strength. Only when you are confident in your skills and abilities can you convey that convincingly to others in interviews.

      One other idea, is offer to work for free to get in the door. You can read more about this here.

      Best wishes,


  2. I’m looking forward to the next article! I agree that office politics, even though it has a bad connotation, is not always a bad thing. I’m interested to see how I can leverage it to my advantage.

    My question for you is, are office politics and work culture the same things?

    Just found your blog tonight – I’m a big fan thus far!


    1. Michaelann, glad to hear you find my blog helpful.

      Regarding your question ” are office politics and work culture the same thing?”, I am not sure. My gut says yes they are the same. The true work culture is a reflection of what king of office politics is at play. What do you think?

  3. Is the quote in #2 above accurate when it says “Afterall, perspection is reality.”

    Is it possible that the word was meant to have been “perception”, as in “Afterall, perception is reality.”?

    If that is what was meant to have been said, it is a miss-quote. The original saying goes: “Perception is 9/10ths of Reality”.

    Quoting from the attached web-site, here is what is said about this “rule”:

    “Reality is important in business. But as far as your customers and prospects are concerned, perception is 9/10ths of reality and that is how they will make future decisions regarding your business. Everyone in your organization that regularly communicates with your customers should have this principle drilled into their heads until it becomes part of their normal process.”

    We have to be careful when we are dealing with our own perceptions, because perception is NOT reality. It is that 1/10 of a percent where we get into trouble of misjudging, being down-right wrong. I think people believe the first quote though, even though it is misquoted, as your post has done. Be careful to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth…or who knows what people will perceive about you?

  4. Ruchika,

    I apologize for the super late reply. For some reason, I didn’t get pinged on my email when you left this comment. To answer your question regarding ” how are you justifying inintentional power ploitics..dont we deserve to raise our ethical/spiritual standards of behaviour..and emotional awareness…”, I would say, I wish the business world is fair but it’s not. Those of us who expect it to be fair can be disappointed like you are.

    I, like you also started out thinking people should be better than this, but I realized that we cannot change others and when they have the power they get to choose how they behave. All we can do is change ourselves. You have changed already by resigning. That is in your control. I applaud you for taking the steps. You can now find another job and hopefully be smarter about how to deal with office politics. You can also change by making sure that when you have the power, you don’t abuse it like these people you worked for. If we all do that, we can eventually raise the standards, but each one of us must choose to be fair. This is not easy as those who do not play fair are not always punished. Sometimes they are even rewarded with an early promotion or raise.

    I am not justifying this behavior but I want to help people become aware that unfair politics are unfortunately a reality in our business world. so it’s better to be aware and then decide on your own action accordingly.

  5. I have been a VICTIM recently…iam jobless these female boss and her sycophant brigade careted a nonsense mindless empire in this government organisation…just always non verbally and verbally used power to subdue just as i was well aware of theri tactics and more intelligent than their minds but still not in thier sycophant brigade….couldnt take it anymore have resigned..its been a i started reading on these topics like communication, disagreemants, power, influencing and convincing others..i was the most qualified but i just couldnt handle the politics of the place…on your wriitng i would say how are you justifying inintentional power ploitics..dont we deserve to raise our ethical/spiritual standards of behaviour..and emotional awareness…

  6. Just consntrt on our work.never loud to them.dnt gv remark infont of d boss to ur mates.this ll b a bad mannr.if u want to shr thn u shr with ur nearst one in home u ll fill btr.othrwise those behv of ur boss dig ur heart.for soothing ur mind talk to ur love.just gv ur 100 prcnt n if they r not talk abot ur personal life just behv like profesonal man.ur work ll shut their mouth.

  7. Hi Wenting,
    I think you have two choices.

    1. Have you tried going to the person who hired you, his boss for advice. – not necessarily to talk bad about your Boss but to see how you can best succeed in this company

    2. Unfortunately is for you to find another job. It’s unfair but you won’t be able to change your boss so best way to get out of this situation is to vote with your feet. – dont quit until you get another one.

    If you want to talk more, let me know.


  8. Hi Han Lei ,

    I’m wenting .i am a buyer in a German company .currently i am working under a unfair office politics .My boss ,he intentionally make a conflict atmosphere between my colleague and me .It just because i was recruited by his boss .and his boss doesn’t recognized his work .Unfortunately ,he think that is my fault .even he think i am the obstacles of his career .you know ,i am trying to communicate with him ,even i thought i can use my work ,my action to prove that i am not his enemy .But i’m fail .He is a man ,he is 4 years older than me ,he has higher education than me ,he has three languages skills .but he think i am his competitor ?! he use all what he can do to let me out of this work ~ .that is too ridiculous ?? .even i am thinking if i need change other company to end this meaningless fighting .but i don’t know why i should quit ??

    can you please give me some suggestions ?i am so so confused !!

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