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Special section 6 ways to get ahead in the office or get out

Office politics isn't a bad thing -- if you know how to play the game. Learn the unwritten rules and be a winner.

Play the office politics game

Picking teams
Back in school, you were probably happy to get picked for a team, but here in the work world, you'll want to avoid getting into an us-versus-them mentality.

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"You can get caught up in someone else's agenda. You can get enmeshed in something and not understand it," warns Lichtenberg.

Rule: Don't get trapped in someone else's game.

"Identify different constituencies at work: management, customers, co-workers and subordinates. They each have different needs. Recognizing their needs is a good policy," Becker says.

"Cultivate relationships with people who'll handle the truth. People tend to get into little groups that reinforce their point of view. You get the most stuck when you keep looking for reinforcement of your own point of view. You dig yourself in and deny yourself options," Lichtenberg says.

Simon says ...
The grapevine is a living source of important information and can be useful for any working professional. The danger is when office talk blurs into juicy gossip. Sarmiento says you want to avoid the temptation to get down and dirty. Keep any juicy items you hear in a work context.

In other words, if you find out a co-worker is drinking heavily at lunch and missing meetings in the afternoon, then that's affecting the workplace and it deserves action. But if you find out that another co-worker is having an affair with someone outside the office, and it's not causing a problem at the office, then it's really not your concern in a professional capacity.

While you can gather information and even disseminate useful facts through the grapevine, be careful to keep yourself and your life out of it. "Don't get too personal. You want to self-disclose selectively," Sarmiento says.

Rules: Be careful discussing personal problems. Don't assume anything will stay secret.

Follow the leader
I'm sure it's hard to believe, but bosses play office politics as well. Higher-ups may have to be polite to each other, but they can and will use their subordinates to battle without telling us little pawns, Lichtenberg says.

Sadly, insecure managers may also encourage office politics between factions of their staff, Rosenbach says.

Rule: Watch out for boss's favorites or pets. Don't incur their wrath either.

"It can be annoying to new workers that these people benefit from the boss's favor. But you need to get along with these people. You have to play the game because a pet in your corner can boost your career," says Julie Campbell, assistant professor of business at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo.

Part of nondirty office politics involves the power imbalance between bosses and subordinates. Whether you were friends before this person became your boss, or you just think your boss is cool, it is difficult to be friends with the boss.

Lichtenberg explains, "The boss is your boss, not your girlfriend. She has responsibility for you. It's a heavy thing."

It's not a matter of mistrust but of an unequal power relationship. If your boss is someone you really like, stay friendly and keep in touch after your work relationship has ended.

 
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