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6 Types of Office 'Politicians' and How to Handle Them

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

Many workers participate in some form of office politics, with most doing so as a way to get ahead.

  • There are six main types of office politics found in many businesses.
  • Positive office politics can benefit teams, while negative politics can cause employees to become disengaged.
  • Managers must identify the underlying causes of negative office politics to cultivate effective teams.

Politics is bubbling over into nearly every aspect of our lives, and the office, it seems, is not immune. Research from Accountemps revealed that political discord plays a big role in today's office life.

Overall, 55% of employees say they partake at least somewhat in office politics, with most of those doing so to advance their careers. The study found that 76% of workers believe that office politics affect their efforts to get ahead, up from 56% who felt that way in 2012.

What is office politics?

Gossiping and spreading rumors is the most popular form of office politicking. According to Accountemps' survey, 46% of employees polled said it is the behavior they see most often. Gaining favor by flattering the boss, taking credit for others' work and sabotaging co-workers' projects are among the other, more common forms of office politics employees say they witness.

When employees perceive that a workplace is political, they are less engaged, participate less and contribute fewer ideas due to the risks they see by doing so. This is troubling for business owners and corporate leaders who are striving to move a company forward.  Teams can't function at the levels they need to in order to achieve their goals. 

Are office politics bad?

To help employees navigate the political landscape of their office, Accountemps identified six types of office politicians and how to handle them. These types will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a business office.  While there can be positive politics in the workplace, these behaviors create negative tension, inhibit employees' ability to perform well, and they are detrimental to teams and employee morale.

  1. Gossip hound: This person is a know-it-all when it comes to what is happening around the office and isn't afraid to share every last detail with anyone. They love spilling secrets to co-workers or sharing confidential information on social media. When dealing with a gossip hound, it is critical that employees keep their conversations related to business. If the conversation starts to drift to the personal lives of co-workers, try to exit the discussion as quickly as possible.

  2. Credit thief: This person will do whatever it takes to get ahead, even if that means taking credit for someone else's ideas. To avoid being the target of a credit thief in your workplace, speak up about your views and what you are working on in front of your co-workers. In addition, provide your boss with frequent updates so they never get confused about who should be getting credit for your work.

  3. Flatterer: This person likes to pass out compliments left and right, but it can be difficult to tell whether the flatterer is being genuine or if they are trying to win people over. Luckily, most company leaders can tell when someone is being fake, so you don't need to call out the flatterer's behavior.

  4. Saboteur: This person works only to benefit him or herself. They are openly critical of others and don't hesitate to throw co-workers under the bus. In addition, they rarely take responsibility for their own mistakes. It is important to keep your guard up when dealing with a saboteur. You might have luck in stopping this behavior by confronting the saboteur. However, if that doesn't work, keep track of your exchanges and relay them to your boss or someone in human resources.

  5. Lobbyist: This person fights hard and has a reputation for swaying opinions in his or her favor. To make sure your views are heard, speak up when you disagree with the lobbyist's opinions. While these employees often don't appreciate hearing opinions that differ from theirs, explaining your viewpoint might be what's needed to open them up to new ideas.

  6. Advisor: The advisor is often the person company leaders confide in and turn to for assistance. You are best served by befriending the advisor since they know a lot about what is happening within the company and wield a lot of influence behind the scenes.

How do you survive office politics?

Bill Driscoll, senior district president, technology staffing services for Accountemps, said office politics are a natural part of workplace dynamics, and there are situations where it can't be avoided.

There are skills employees can develop to survive and move ahead. Social astuteness, networking, interpersonal influence and true sincerity can help professionals achieve their goals. Networking creates new, diverse partnerships that can add resources when teams face an issue. For instance, when faced with a particular problem, a colleague may have specialized knowledge or skills that can help the team move forward.  Underlying it all, though, is true sincerity. Everyone in the workplace can spot insincerity.  Leaders, however, who are truly invested and supportive of team members generate dynamic support for the organization. 

Unfortunately, negative office politics occur every day in many offices across the U.S. When managers are aware of a negative situation, many times the natural instinct is to ride it out. This is a mistake that can harm employee morale and productivity. "The key is to understand what's at the core of politically charged situations, such as personalities or working relationships, and try to resolve issues in a tactful manner," Driscoll said in a statement. "If you must get involved, you want to be seen as the diplomat."

The study was based on surveys of more than 1,000 U.S. workers who were employed in offices.

Image Credit: jacoblund / Getty Images
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