People are debating. They are jockeying for attention. There are sides to take. It’s a race and there are winners, there are losers, and there are people who refuse to play the game. Is this an election? No! It’s office politics, and whether you like it or not, it exists everywhere you go.

It’s so nice to start a new job. You have that feeling that things will be different here. No one will have a hidden agenda. They’ll be no or limited BS! Ah, it’s nice to dream.

Back in the real world, office politics contribute to workplace conflict and cost US businesses $359B a year and take 2.8 hrs of an average US employee’s week. To avoid you and your organization wasting time and resources, keep these tips in mind as you navigate down the halls and through the cubicles of office interpersonal dynamics and drama.

#1:  Learn the written and unwritten rules.

Each workplace has unique rules. Some are easily discoverable, like those written down in the employee handbook. These policies are available to everyone. Other rules are unwritten; they are cultural norms you learn about as you grow with the organization. For example, the written, public rule may state that timesheets are due by 12 noon every Friday. In reality, it’s OK to turn them in by the following Monday–as long as you turn them into the right person in Accounting.

Unwritten rules you usually become aware of as you learn the ropes. To speed things up, ask your manager something like this, “When I need to get an expense approved quickly, whom should I approach first?” or “I need to push a requisition through HR, fast. What have you done in the past to move the process along?”

#2:  Realize that fair doesn’t come into play.

When I got my first full-time job, it took just a few weeks for me to learn that there were always exceptions to the rules. Even when someone said, “No exceptions.” Exceptions were allowed around salaries, promotions, vacation time, who got a cellphone and who didn’t, etc. Was this fair? No. Was the intention to be unjust? No. Does this happen everywhere? Yes. Get over it.

#3:  Pick your battles wisely.

Which conflict is worth the scuffle? When deciding when to call attention to written rules, consider your position, your level of influence, the individual in question, and the ideal end result: what you wish to accomplish, why, and how it helps the company thrive. For example, if the SVP of Sales has lost her iPhone 3 times in the last year and the handbook states that she should replace it herself from now on, before uttering a breath, reflect upon her role and what she contributes to the organization. This isn’t worth it.

Life isn’t fair, right? Well, work isn’t fair, either. Not everyone plays by the rules all the time. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can devote your energy to what you can control: your expertise and how to contribute to the business.

Arguing for playing by the rules all the time will brand you negatively among your peers and supervisors.

© Leila Bulling Towne 2010

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