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Is “politics” a dirty word? I’ve heard people in the workplace and other settings state that they don’t want to be involved in office politics. They prefer to keep their heads down, do the work and go home; believing their good work will be noticed and earn a raise or promotion. In some environments it will. I’m going out on a limb, but don’t think that occurs in most organizations.

I entered the work world with rose colored glasses believing that if I worked hard and was nice to everyone things would be great. I was naïve. A superior undercut a colleague to get a promotion. Morale in the department plummeted. Under the guise of “openness” the person held a department-wide meeting to find out why department personnel were so melancholy. I gave my thoughts on the matter in an honest respectful manner. After the meeting a senior member in the department pulled me aside and told me what I said was true, but expressing it in front of everyone would cost me a large amount of political capital. They went on to tell me that the maneuver the person used to get the position was unethical therefore did not want to be called out in a public forum.

That experience taught me to look before leaping. That is to be aware of the political climate which can be gleaned from the people who operate within it. Through principled leaders and mentors I learned that office politics is necessary, but not necessarily evil.

There are two types of office politics on a continuum. Toxic on one end and win-win on the other. Toxic office politics is focused on personal interests. It consists of bullying, excluding, misrepresenting, withholding and other forms of deception to gain an advantage.

Win-win office politics is mission driven. It’s built on trust, integrity, collaboration, empathy and humility. These types of organizations exist, I experienced them. I couldn’t wait to get to work!

Not knowing what to look for in terms of navigating office politics could have been a career killer for me. Thank goodness for my mentors and colleagues. Without them, who knows where I would have ended up. Thanks to them I am much more observant and did my research before accepting new positions. Thereafter, when pursuing career opportunities, I spoke with employees at all levels in an organization to get different perspectives on the climate. After that near death experience I took off the rose colored glasses, kept my eyes and ears wide open and successfully engaged in win-win office politics. In other words, I changed my thoughts which changed my destiny!