There’s no avoiding it, but surprise – you don’t have to backbite or gossip while you’re at it. Here’s how.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

There’s no avoiding it, but surprise – you don’t have to backbite or gossip while you’re at it. Here’s how.

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Understanding office politics

The term still holds loads of negative connotations – think Mean Girls at work. Yet, at its base, office politics simply refers to “the strategies people employ when navigating workplace conflicts, power play and networks for the purpose of gaining advantage or support,” says Lynne Roeder, managing director of global recruitment firm Hays in Singapore. We say: Nothing wrong with striving to get ahead, but the approach makes all the difference.


1. Know where the power really lies. Your boss might hold the most authority, but who’s the informal leader of the pack? “Once you know the informal networks in the company and the who’s who, form a good relationship with those who hold the most influence,” says Elin Wong, a recruiter. But don’t take sides – you don’t want to end up entangled in manipulative power play.

2. Don’t bitch about management. If you catch yourself complaining all the time, stop it, says accountant Hazel Toh. “It only attracts more negativity.” Rather than being known as a grump, talk less and do more – basically, become known as a problemsolver. Also, staying professional isn’t just “office-hours only” – after work counts too. Lynne says: “Watch your words and actions, especially during social gatherings with colleagues where alcohol is involved.” Consistency is key in gaining support from your co-workers.

3. Disagree by asking. Never make disagreements a personal attack. Instead of dissing your colleague’s idea from the get-go, start by asking questions about their idea to show respect, suggests Femke Hellemons, country manager of Adecco Singapore. “This reduces the risk of alienating your colleague,” says Femke. Instead, you’d be helping her to process her thoughts, and she might even end up thanking you for it. Plus, you’re presenting yourself as a team player.

4. Make yourself visible to the right people. To move up the ranks, you have to do more than what’s required of you. But that’s not enough – people also need to know that you’re going the extra mile. Rather than tooting your own horn, try a subtle approach: “Solicit feedback from various colleagues in key positions on your project. This ensures that you are remembered in a positive manner by key people in the company,” Femke suggests.

5. Listen. “Learn the nuances at the workplace by listening and staying humble and positive,” says Lynne. Don’t just listen, but also empathise with your colleagues, giving sincere feedback where appropriate. And don’t rat on them if they’ve told you something in confidence – word gets around fast, and your reputation can just as quickly go down the drain.