How to Avoid Being a Casualty in Office Politics

“Be as shrewd as serpents but as innocent as doves.” – Jesus

How do you work effectively with someone you don’t trust and who is overly political?

The Overly Political Associate

Secret WeaponWe know them. They are all about their own success and their own (often hidden) agenda. Looking good is their top priority – often at the expense of others. They take more than their fair share of credit. They say one thing to you but something else to others.

Sometimes, you might not even be able to pinpoint exactly why … but you just don’t trust them.

You’ve given them the benefit of the doubt. You’ve looked for ways to “be on the same team” when you have disagreements. You’ve genuinely affirmed their strengths and tried to overlook questionable behavior. You’ve taken responsibility for your part of difficulties and challenges. And you’ve ruled out that your angst about this person is due to style differences.

It’s time for tougher tactics.

Six Tactics.

Here are six tips for managing your relationship with someone who is not trustworthy while keeping from being played politically:

1. Beware of making them look bad.

Looking good – especially to those who are influential in this person’s sphere – is extremely important to them. Political animals will bite you when cornered or publicly exposed, so be ready.

2. If you do confront or challenge the person, first do it directly and privately.

Describe specifically the behaviors about which you are concerned. Explain the impact their actions are having and how that may be counter to reaching their goals. Appeal to common goals you may have but suggest other means to achieve them.

3. If a private conversation doesn’t work, consider bringing in a third party to meet with the two of you.

One leader, after meeting individually with his over-political peer, scheduled a joint meeting with their boss to get challenges and concerns out on the table. This put the person on notice and added accountability and objectivity.

4. Leave a trail.

Document decisions, positions and actions publicly – early and often. And keep other key people, such as your boss and/or trusted advisor, informed.

5. Ask advice from a trusted and savvy advocate – ideally a senior person in your organization.

Not only will you get some helpful suggestions, but you will also build support and counter the overly political person’s influence. Share your concerns, but tread carefully. Stick to facts and don’t bash the person – especially if there’s a chance your advisor has a relationship with this person. (If you learn they are close, you may need to go outside your sphere to find someone with whom you can be open.) Keep this advisor informed and involved as you navigate further conversations and situations regarding this person.

6. Lastly and maybe most importantly, ramp up your efforts to strengthen your relationships with other key influencers and decision-makers in your sphere.

Get regular time with these people and proactively keep them informed and involved in your initiatives, progress and successes. You ought to do this anyway, but it’s even more important when you have an over-political colleague that is likely getting more time – and more influence – with these people than you are.

It’s possible to navigate organizational politics while keeping your integrity, but it’s not easy. I’d love to hear your own helpful stories or suggestions.


Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. In his work as a leadership consultant and executive coach, he often helps leaders navigate organizational politics with integrity and savvy. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.