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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

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
What's the prize in the office politics game? In dirty office politics, it's usually something as petty as the smug accomplishment of bettering a co-worker. Rosenbach paraphrased Henry Kissinger when he explained that office politics can get vicious because the stakes are so low.

But sometimes the stakes can be quite high. Play office politics well and you may gain access to the boss's ear, which can boost your career. Play the game badly, and you could lose your job ... or worse.

"The worst thing, you could get stuck in your career, in a dead end, blocked," Sarmiento says.

Young workers may have certain expectations that the adult work world is a place of logical, unbiased decisions, with an ultimate concern for the bottom dollar or the customer. In reality, the workplace is not that different from the petty clique-ishness of high school -- with the addition of two more layers of complexity, Lichtenberg says. At work, you're dealing with real money and people who have the power to fire you.

Chutes & Ladders
"The essence of politics is look at what's in it for the other person," says Sarmiento. "You get what you want by helping others get what they want."

Rule: Establish affiliations of mutual advantage with important people. People will always be able to refer you to other jobs. Be the good guy who does your job well.

If you find yourself in a conflict with another person at work, Lichtenberg recommends changing your strategy rather than waiting for others to change. She advises finding some other way to fulfill an opponent's need. In other words, if the supply clerk makes you run through hoops to get a box of pens, discover this person's motive. Perhaps they feel out of the loop or unacknowledged. In that case, find someway to recognize this person and pay positive attention to them. You may find them less rigid in their bureaucracy.

Tag, you're it
Rule: Keep it professional at all times.

Sarmiento recommends accepting office politics as a part of your job. He explains, "Networking and politicking are not distractions -- they're part of the job. Do it in a professional way. Apply the same ethics and hard work to that part of your job."

Some folks believe if things are managed correctly, we'll all get along perfectly. That's not possible, Lichtenberg says.

"Office politics is like marriage and democracy," Lichtenberg says. She explains that these are all ideals; the reality is usually a bit messier. "You can have less office politics in the corporate equivalent of fascism, so the alternative is not pleasant."

Rule: Never make enemies on the way up. You'll meet them again on the way down.

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-- Updated: Feb. 26, 2007
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