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Office Politics: How to Play the Game – Ethically

Workplace Ethics Advice

Yesterday I posted a blog on my Ethics Sage blog site about the nature of office politics and basic ethical considerations. Today I look at how office politics is played and how you can use it to your (ethical) advantage.


Organizations are social places and much of the work gets done by groups of people. In such an environment, office politics is going to occur. It may range from the relatively benign old-style “water cooler gossip” to inappropriate social media posts to the more serious making of offensive comments about a co-worker to a superior.

Many people avoid office politics and feel uneasy when it occurs, yet it is unavoidable. The key is how to use the organizational culture to play the game but do it the right way.

A post on the career site MindTools suggests that “it is possible to promote yourself and your cause without compromising your values or those of your organization.” The key is to practice “good politics” to further your and your team’s interests fairly and appropriately.

Ethical Considerations

We should be ethical in the workplace and all our interrelationships because it promotes happiness, creates meaning in our lives, and enhances our well-being. Some basic rules are: Do no harm. Be respectful. Be fair to others. Keep confidences and act responsibly. It’s important to be part of the solution, not the problem, in developing an ethical culture in the organization.

Avoid the ethical slippery slope. This is where a first misstep leads to another and sooner or later you are faced with either backtracking on an inappropriate comment about another person or critical comments about how things get done in the organization or engage in a cover-up. Always take the moral high road.

Seven Survival Tips for Office Politics Office politics-workplace ethics

MindTools provides seven survival tips for office politics that, I believe, provide sound advice about playing office politics ethically.

  1. Analyze the organization chart. Who are the influencers? Who has authority and what are the lines of communication?
  2. Understand the informal network. Once you know where the power and influence lie, it’s time to understand the workplace relationships to evaluate the informal or social networks. Who gets along with who? Who finds it more difficult to interact with others? Look for the in-groups; out-groups; or cliques at work.
  3. Build Connections. Now that you know how relationships work, you can start to build your own social network. Look beyond the formal hierarchy. Build high-quality connections.
  4. Develop Your “people skills.” Interpersonal skills are necessary to successfully build a network and provide the tools necessary to deal with office politics. Listen to others carefully; understand their point of view; keep your emotions in check; act to build consensus.
  5. Make the most of your network. Keep the organization’s goals in mind. Be faithful to your obligations. Be accountable for your actions. These are critical factors in dealing with office politics ethically.
  6. Be brave – but not naïve. The MindTools post gives sound advice here: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Get to know those who gossip; be courteous and respectful because what you say may be repeated with a negative spin.
  7. Neutralize negative politics. Don’t fuel the fire of negative politics. Don’t be selfish. Don’t pass on rumors. Remain professional. If you’re voicing concerns or criticism of your own, be confident and assertive but not aggressive.

My Advice

Here is my five-step program to deal with office politics.

  1. Listen to understand first and then act.
  2. Be sensitive to the feelings of others in the office.
  3. Don’t criticize others just for the sake of doing so. Be mindful they are human beings that shouldn’t be “beat up” by making offensive comments.
  4. Ask questions and don’t judge others.
  5. Seek help to deal with conflict situations especially when you are the target of office politics.
  6. Think first, and then act. Ask, “How would you feel if your actions and words were posted on the Internet and discussed on social media? Would you proud to defend them?”

It all comes down to one simple statement: Don’t do or say anything about another person in your organization that you wouldn’t want said about you. If you have a gripe, go to the proper official to air your concerns. Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Many things are best kept confidential between the parties and not discussed openly where feelings may be hurt, revenge is sought, and the culture becomes toxic.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on February 6, 2019. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.