Politics in the workplace can get vicious -- and we're not talking about the governmental kind. Rather, office politics, or how power and influence are managed in your company, will be a part of your career whether you choose to participate in them or not.
Don't align yourself too strongly with just one group at the office because they may not hold power forever.
Some workers say they don't want to get caught up in politics at work, but most experts argue that playing the game is crucial to your career success. By not getting involved, you may find your talents ignored, your success limited and you may feel left out of the loop, says Louellen Essex, co-author of "Manager's Desktop Consultant: Just-in-Time Solutions to the Top People Problems That Keep You Up at Night."
"Politics get nasty when an employee is out for his or her personal gain alone," Essex says. "Think of playing office politics as a game of strategy through which you are able to get the resources and influence you need to accomplish your goals. Most often those who are diplomatic, respectful and build coalitions with effective people win."
Here are Essex's nine tips to help you win at office politics and still gain other's respect.
1. Observe how things get done in your organization.
Ask some key questions: What are the core values and how are they enacted? Are short- or long-term results most valued? How are decisions made? How much risk is tolerated? The answers to these questions should give you a good sense of the culture of your organization.
2. Profile powerful individuals
Pay attention to their communication style, network of relationships and what types of proposals they say "yes" to most often. Emulate those traits by drawing on the strengths you have.
3. Determine strategic initiatives in the company
Update your skills to be relevant to company initiatives. For example, don't lag behind in technology, quality or customer service approaches that are crucial to you and your company's success.
4. Develop a personal track record as someone who gets results
Style without substance will not gain others' respect, especially in today's organizations that focus on outcome.
5. Don't be afraid to toot your own horn
If no one knows of your good work, you may lose at the game of office politics -- when you really deserve to win. Let others know what you've accomplished whenever you get the opportunity. If you don't know the fine art of diplomatic bragging, you might get lost in the shuffle of your co-workers.
6. Treat everyone with respect
Don't show preferential treatment or treat co-workers badly. You never know who someone might be connected to and rude behavior may come back to bite you.
7. Don't align too strongly with one group
While an alliance may be powerful for the moment, new leadership will often oust existing coalitions and surround themselves with a new team. Bridging across factions may be a more effective strategy for long-term success if you intend to stay in your current organization for some time.
8. Learn to communicate persuasively
Develop an assertive style, backed with solid facts and examples, to focus others' attention on your ideas and proposals. Good politicians can adjust their messages for their audience and are always well-prepared.
9. Be true to yourself.
After analyzing the political landscape in your company, if you decide the game is one you can't play, prepare to move on. It's not typical, but some organizations actually condone -- even promote -- dishonest, ruthless or unethical behavior. The game of office politics in this situation is not one worth winning.