Reframing office politics: 6 essential ideas (video transcript)

Have you ever found yourself in a position where you feel like you do not have the political wherewithal to be able to maneuver your way into a plum position? Read on to discover some different ways to think about politics in the organization and how those office politics can actually be a skill that you can get better at.

Step 1: Change the language

Let’s start with the very idea of how we think about and talk about office politics. The first step is to change the language you use when discussing office politics to adapt your approach to situations where you need to be a little bit more savvy.

Some people make out like office politics is the most insidious, evil thing imaginable.

What if we were to reframe our conception of office politics as being better at stakeholder management, being more clear about your personal brand, and your value proposition to the organization? None of those things have such a negative connotation, and that’s really what office politics is about.

Changing that mindset is the first place to start: transitioning from viewing people who participate in office politics as being unethical, slimy or smarmy, to people who want to add value and want to be recognized for adding that value.

Step 2: Be true to yourself

I am not recommending at any point that you think of this as being inauthentic or pretending to be something that you’re not. Staying true to the core of who you are and what you believe matters a lot, and I know: I once was scored in the fourth percentile on political savvy because I’m so principled about staying true to who I am.

Step 3: How can I add value?

While you’re being true to yourself, focus on how you can add value for the organization, department, team or customer.

Focusing on how to add value is a great way of shifting your view of office politics away from something unhelpful or unhealthy, to understanding that really office politics are about identifying the currency of the organization and how much of it you have.

Much like in a political election with key issues, the currency in your organization could be many different things.

Profitability is certainly the currency in many, but there are other organizations where profitability is irrelevant and growth is more important. It’s all about growth. In other places, having very strong relationships with either key customers or other stakeholders is the main currency.

Your goal is to figure out is what the most valuable currency for the role you want is, and how you can focus as much of your attention and energy and efforts as possible on delivering on that currency. That is what’s going to get you noticed.

Step 4: Adding value from another perspective

I want you to now think about what is value and what has currency, but from the hiring manager’s perspective. It may be a little bit different or nuanced.

As well as the pressures you are under in trying to get this new role, you also need to bear in mind the pressures on the person who’s hiring into this role. So take some time to empathize and think about, “How are they being evaluated? What’s important for them?” Because ultimately, it’s all giving them what they need so they can deliver the things that you’ve committed to, and that you’re being held accountable for.

Step 5: How do I add risks?

The fifth thing is the other half of the equation for the hiring manager.

We often think of office politics as the best person doesn’t always get the job, and this is because who the hiring manager selects is not always about what value the candidate can bring to the role.

The chosen candidate is not always the person with the most positives; sometimes they are the person with the fewest liabilities.

As such, in addition to thinking about what value you can bring, you have to think about how your candidacy can add risks. Are there reasons why you’re untested? Are there parts of the role that you’ve never done? These elements pose a big question mark as to whether you’ll be successful.

Are there things in your track record that might make the hiring manager a little nervous, for example some past friction between you and IT when applying for a role with a lot of IT interface.

It’s important to remember that a lot of hiring managers are more motivated by fear and putting in the lowest risk candidate, as opposed to putting in the highest possibility candidate.

Step 6: Play nicely with others

Finally, you need to make sure throughout the entire process that you are playing nicely with others.

How you interact with the hiring manager as well as the other candidates is going to say a lot about who you are and how you’re going to tackle the role. So don’t overstate or misrepresent your contributions, and certainly don’t throw anybody else under the bus.

Not only will that affect your candidacy for this role, but it’s will form your reputation forevermore in the organization. You need to demonstrate that, even through a competitive and stressful process, you will take the high road. That will be really good for your career overall.


Remember that what is labeled as organizational politics is often sour grapes from people who aren’t as good at adding value, who aren’t as good at influencing stakeholders, who aren’t as good at creating a compelling story of what they contribute.

It’s not that somehow, they’re smarmy or unethical or shrewd. So think about organizational politics and office politics as just part of what it takes to be successful.

You need to be more aware of the business environment and what the currencies are. You need to be more aware of all the players; not just the hiring manager, but people who influence them and the people they need to consider in selecting the right person for the role.

Don’t just think about the upside. Think about the risks and how you can answer questions in a way that makes the person feel more confident about putting you in the role.

Interestingly, office politics is not just about getting a job. These are actually the skills that will make you more successful when you get the job. So for that reason, I find a lot of these things are really good indicators of who deserves to get a new position.

More on this

Dealing with office politics in getting promoted

Navigating a difficult political situation

Preparing for a new leader