Advice on Office Politics

There are a lot of office politics at the law firm where I work. My coworkers love to build alliances, strategize to get ahead and talk about who said what — and I don’t! I need some career advice on how to manage the situation or, if necessary, how to play the game.

When it comes to government politics — the presidential primaries, how your representatives voted and so forth — you can tune out if you want. But office politics are a different matter, and maneuvering and jockeying for positions happens in every occupation and at every level. Even if you don’t like it, you need to know how to handle it in order to survive in your firm and get ahead in your legal career. The trick is to do it well. Here are three tips on how to play politics like a pro.

  1. Build a broad coalition

    Having a good in-house network helps professionals manage office politics, especially in the legal world.  Get to know the players in your organization — from entry-level legal secretaries to full partners. While the conventional wisdom is to focus attention on the power players, every connection is valuable, so pay attention to coworkers with less experience or those who sit lower on the organizational chart. At the same time, don’t be intimidated by senior executives. Get to know them as well, but in a genuine and respectful way. Empty flattery will just rub them the wrong way.
  2. Strike a good balance

    Resist the temptation to participate in gossip or rumors, or to choose sides when faced with opposing opinions. Yet don’t be so pious or censorious that colleagues feel they can’t share any news with you. You want to stay in tune with happenings in the firm without being embroiled in controversy and negativity. Strive to build a personal brand that projects friendliness, competence, diplomacy and trustworthiness.

  3. Strategize your responses

    Though you may strive for collaboration within the legal profession, you may become a victim of office politics. When you’re under attack, don’t automatically get defensive and strike back. Rather, take a moment to strategize best how to respond. Inam recommends talking with the person who has wronged you to understand his or her perspective, and working together to find a solution. Sometimes, the best move is to rise above the conflict and not react. This would give your attacker less ammunition to use against you.

In the legal profession, it’s not practical to keep your head down and steer completely clear of office politics. You don’t want to develop a reputation as someone who’s aloof and anti-social. The best career advice for someone who dislikes office drama is to know the rules and learn how to play the game well — but not play it often.