The Cosmo Chick's Guide to Office Politics

Here, Cosmo helps you identify your office "adversaries" and your key strategies in dealing with them without having to play dirty yourself.

Like it or not, office politics is part of the working world—and you can’t escape it. Sara, 28, bank employee, says matter-of-factly, “Even in the most mundane environment, office politics exist.” 

“Office politics can mean a workplace power play,” says Aileen Santos, life coach and trainer of www.aileensantos.com. It’s “a term for both the productive and counterproductive competitive human factors present between co-workers, in any office environment,” as Wikipedia explains further. And unlike office gossip which “can be a purely social activity,” office politics is an arena where people participle in order to gain advantage, adds Santos. 

When office politics reigns supreme, there are several players who fan the flames. We’ve weeded out the culprits and figured out your best tactics to keep your sanity—and job—in check.

The Whiner

Everyday, this person finds something new to complain about: the hassle of going to the office (“It’s so traffic kasi!”), the poor office set-up (“Ang sikip!”), the mountainload of tasks he or she has to fulfill (“I’m so stressed na!”). For some, it’s easy to tune out the moaning and groaning, but in the long run, the whining can take its toll on you.

“These people…drag others down with the weight of their generalizations that nothing is right, everything is wrong, and it’s always going to be that way unless you do something,” writes Dr. Rick Brickman and Dr. Rick Kirschner, authors of Dealing With Difficult People. The sad thing is, these people are all talk and no action—and they expect you to clean up the act. For those with Mighty Mouse complexes, hearing this person complain will gear them to be proactive. But, realize that subconsciously (or consciously) taking on the responsibility of making the working environment a happier place for a Whiner can just drain the enthusiasm out of you.

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Smart Strategy: Sometimes, Whiners have a point. The key is to filter their complaints and determine which points are valid or not. Then, suggest ways she can improve her outlook or bring it up with the people concerned. However, if the Whiner is the type who just won’t quit, then “the only thing you can really do is to find more positive people in your office to hang out with,” advises Santos. If that doesn’t work, and she still latches on to you as her sounding board, take a direct approach and explain to her how demoralizing her bellyaching is to you. 

The Suck-Up

Suffice to say, the Suck-Up likes being in the limelight—and being the apple of your boss’s eye. The ass-kissing can go to extreme lengths, such that he or she will take credit for your work.

“In my office, there was this co-worker who was obviously driven to get to the top. Unfortunately, she was so ambitious that she became really sipsip,” recalls Mari, 32, a teacher who is now a freelancer. “It would’ve been okay if she was extra-thoughtful and nice to the boss, but when she started claiming credit for work my other co-teachers and I did, sobra na talaga yun!”

Most people are annoyed by Suck-Ups, but the worst possible scenario would be if a Suck-Up were to be promoted to a position where he or she can lord it over you. If not dealt with properly, a Suck-Up can go on a power trip.                      

Smart Strategy: Put the office sipsip in his or her place. Santos suggests this statement: “Remember how I suggested (insert your idea here), and you thought it was great? The boss really seemed to like it when you told him about our idea.”

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“The objective,” Santos adds, “is to remind your colleague of your contribution, show him or her that you remember his or her contribution, and package it as your combined output, without making him or her look like the bad guy.” Most Suck-Ups are just totally deadma about the fact that they’re being credit-hoggers, but you don’t have to go on the offensive in order to remind them of that.

The Think-They-Know-It-All

It could be your boss, a colleague, or even a subordinate. They’ll either shoot down every single idea you propose, or would always comment every chance they get. The Think-They-Know-It-Alls are similar to the Suck-Ups because they like being the center of attention. The difference is, they do think they know it all and believe they deserve the attention, advantage, and adoration.

“Although these people don’t know that much, they don’t let that get in the way,” explain Dr. Brinkman and Dr. Kirschner. “If you don’t [really] know much about what they’re talking about, they may [lead] you into trouble or throw a project off-track.” So, be wary and astute enough to discern if a co-worker is a Think-They-Know-It-All.

Smart Strategy: If a superior unknowingly falls for a Think-They-Know-It-All’s ideas and comments, it can lead a project (or the whole team) to disaster. But, “don’t burst their bubble,” warn Brinkman and Kirschner. “When you challenge [them], their only way out is to counterattack with [even] grander claims. And their conviction could sway others who don’t know any better.” Putting them on the defensive will not only embarrass them, but will also put you in a bad light in front of others.

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Your best tactic? “Temper criticism with praise,” suggests Carrie Mason-Draffen, author of 151 Quick Ideas To Deal With Difficult People. Show the Think-They-Know-It-All that you appreciate their inputs, but also say that it’s important to get feedback from the rest of the staff, too. If you’re the boss of such an employee, give credit when and where it’s due, but let your other subordinates speak up. It’ll strike a balance between being a good listener and a good manager.

The Backstabber          

There are people who gossip for the sake of gossip, and there are those spread vicious rumors about you for the sake of gaining power or advantage. “These are not friends,” declares Giselle, 28, programmer. “If they’re your friends, they’d tell you [upfront what their issue is with you] instead of being plastic.”

“This covert operator resents you for some reason,” warn Brinkman and Kirschner. “He or she gets even by identifying your weaknesses and using them against you, through sabotage, gossip, and putdowns.” Meaning, tsismis isn’t the only arsenal Backstabbers use, so, you have to arm yourself from head to toe and more.

Smart Strategy: “Backstabbers seldom survive head-on confrontations,” says Mason-Draffen. “That’s why they’re called backstabbers. If you don’t challenge them, [you will eventually] have a bull’s eye on your back.” Given this, it’s best to confront them straight on if you feel that something’s amiss or hear them talking about you behind your back. Tell them directly that you know they’ve been talking about you—and in not-so-nice terms at that. “The best way to control the backstabber is to smoke him out with the truth,” Mason-Draffen affirms.

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The Bully

In every workplace, there’s probably one person who consistently dishes out venomous personal parinigs, who takes delight in ruining your day with seemingly harmless hirits, or who is simply rude, aggressive, and pushy. The Bully often leaves “people feeling threatened and demeaned,” says Robert I. Sutton, PhD, author of The No Asshole Rule. And these “interpersonal moves...are often directed by more powerful people at less powerful people.”   

To know if a person is a certified Bully, Sutton suggests asking yourself these questions: “After talking to the alleged asshole, does the ‘target’ feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself? Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?” If the answers are yes, most likely the person is a Bully.

And, while each person’s patience and tolerance levels vary, it’s up to you to stand up to the Bully and show that you’re no pushover.                    

Smart Strategy: “Hold your ground,” advise Brinkman and Kirschner. “Interrupt the attack…[or say something like,] ‘We both want what’s best on this project.’” Simply show that you’re no pushover and that you’re not afraid to stand up to the Bully. Often, the Bully targets those who are likely to quake in their boots since they know they’ll get their way.

Or, do what Aiza, 25, call center agent, did when a colleague unleashed his poison. “At a meeting, he was always saying, ‘I think we should do it this way’ and rolling his eyes when other people gave their inputs. I got so fed up that I talked to our boss about it, so she could intervene,” she shares. “Good thing my boss listened and considered my request, so he was less hostile after.”

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