Some people take pride in being deaf and blind to organizational politics. A good friend and now out-of-work colleague confesses that he didn’t see his termination coming. He offered:

“I didn’t want to play the games.”

He now knows that is approach was naïve. By ignoring the internal power dynamics in his organization, he allowed himself to be marginalized and then eliminated.

“My reviews were fine, but I ignored the shifting structure and ended up on the wrong side of someone I had shown no tolerance for during my time at the firm.”

For all of us, ignoring this very real human behavior that manifests itself as organizational politics, is a sure-fire way to end up at best on the fringe of irrelevance, and at worst, to end up outside, wondering what happened.  

Some have power, some aspire to power (or control) and others will stop at nothing to gain power.  Certainly, intentions and approaches vary. There are good people who aspire to more responsibility and to gain the opportunity to make a bigger impact. And there are others who view this as a game to win or lose. The rest tend to be passive observers along for the ride, hoping (a bad strategy all of the time) to be left alone.

“My work speaks for itself.”

Nice thought. No it doesn’t. You have to speak for yourself and, you need others willing to speak for you. Lacking both, you end up isolated and in danger.

7 Ideas for Playing Politics without Sacrificing Your Integrity

1. Build bridges across the organization. Every day. There’s nothing wrong, dirty or evil with networking, supporting others and building productive relationships with those in peer and superior roles in other parts of the organization. In fact, it’s decent, logical and shows you in good form.

2. Don’t fear new opportunities. Even if you are comfortable in your current role, if someone offers you a new opportunity, it’s because they believe you are up to the task. A good many professionals suffer from a bad case of lack of confidence when it comes to taking on something new, something different and something that involves doing more. Say “no” too many times, and the offers will dry up, and you’ll be headed for the margin of irrelevance.

3. Over-deliver, every single day.  Your results do count and word does spread.

4. Learn your boss’s agenda, and support it. Today’s boss is tomorrow’s sponsor, reference or adversary.

5. Speaking of the boss, steer clear of boss bashing. Keep your feelings to yourself, and beware the groups who thrive on breaking bad over the boss. Your words can and will be used against you.

6. Same rule as #5, different audience. Steer clear of colleague bashing sessions.

7. Attach yourself to individuals who aspire to do more in support of the firm. While these individuals might be more aggressive than you in pushing an agenda, your affiliation with people you respect and who are motivated to do good for the firm is a sincere and genuine form of playing politics.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Choosing to ignore the internal power dynamics in your organization should come with a warning label. “Ignoring reality may prove harmful or fatal to your employment.”

Instead of taking comfort in a naive pride in your ability to “avoid the games,” participate in a manner that allows you to retain your integrity. Keep your eyes and ears open and choose your steps deliberately, all the while maintaining your integrity.

This blog originally appeared at

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