can’t not be involved,” says Bui. “That’s perceived as not
wanting to play with others, and it’s important to play
But make sure you’re playing with the right people.
“It’s important to be associated with certain others, too,” says Bui. “You need to be part of the action
whether or not you like it.”
Learn the Unwritten Rules
Every organization is rife with unique work practices.
They were developed through the interpersonal and
interdepartmental encounters that have occurred
throughout the life of the organization. Most times,
those practices are not written in a pamphlet. An
employee new to the organization or new to the department usually must be told by someone who knows
what those practices are.
When Kim Spivey, director of diversity engagement
and inclusion at Wachovia, No. 14 on The 2008
DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity® list,
IN OFFICE politics, GROUPS
CAN align ALONG AGE,
GENDER, RACE, ETHNICITY AND/
moved to a new department, she made it a point to find
someone with whom she was comfortable, and then
she asked for the unwritten rules. “‘Is there anything
that I could step into unknowingly that could trip me
up?’ I do this when I’ve moved to a new level or when I
work with a new person,” says Spivey.
Bui says mentors are helping her learn the unwritten rules. She not only has senior Asian-American-executive mentors but also white, Latino and Black
senior-executive mentors. “You can learn things from a
manual … but there is no way you can learn everything
about the politics. Knowing who’s who and how people
make decisions and how those decisions will affect
your work—those are things you learn from a mentor,”
Reid takes the idea of finding a mentor and builds it
up to a group of executives she calls her personal board
of directors. “When I say ‘board of directors,’ the board
should be comprised of people who know you and have
seen you in work situations for a while,” says Reid. “It
should include people who are in a different division
from you, your peers and those who have advanced.
With these people, you will have honest, direct relationships and can ask why you do or don’t get chosen.”
When facing office politics, it’s easy to react without
thinking first and then fall into a trap. When faced with
a situation in which she feels she’s being slighted by an
ambitious coworker, Spivey says she takes a breath and
privately assesses a situation before responding. Taking
time to assess the situation is important because it
calms the person who feels victimized and allows them
to respond in a controlled, tactful manner.
“When I feel I’m in a situation where somebody
might have shut me out of an opportunity or in a
conversation where I felt my efforts were being undermined, I’ve learned to pause, take a deep breath,
find out what else might be going on, and then
engage the other individual,” says Spivey, who has
spent 24 years at Wachovia.
Spivey may address the situation later that day or
another day. Regardless of when she does, she makes
sure she’s calm. Often, office politics can spiral out of
control because of the “victim’s” response.
She gives an example of what she might say when
approaching someone about a slight: “‘We were in that
meeting the other day and I felt my ideas weren’t being
heard,’” Spivey suggests. “‘I don’t think that’s what you
intended, but that’s what I felt. My contributions are
important to this project. I need to make sure my ideas
can be heard.’”
Watch How Your Career Is Handled
By Your Boss and/or Others
Listen to the middle part of your boss’s critiques, Reid
says. When critiquing, a common practice in corporate America is to start with the kudos, then give the
critique, and then end with kudos.
“People always tell you something nice, then tell you
the truth in the middle, and then they end on something else nice. So listen to the middle and make your
decisions based on what’s said in the middle,” says Reid.
Office politics are just part of the game, and people
should know they can win at it, Reid adds. “Understand
that it’s not personal. Every player wants to win for
him- or herself. If you know [this], then when you’re
being given a hard time, you know that it’s that the
other person wants to win. With that, you can take the
personal affront out of it and you can play the game for
what it is.”