You may have encountered politics at your workplace in some way or form. If you are like most people, you probably associate a negative connotation to workplace politics, and would like to stay as far away from it as you can. However, workplace politics need not be a bad thing. In fact, you can use politics to gain influence and establish a social position at your workplace.

How Much Must I Participate in Workplace Politics?

The risk of refusing to participate in politics is that the big decisions that affect you wind up being made by those with less experience, less insight and fewer honourable intentions. There is a way to use the unspoken rules to contribute to the greater good, advance your interests, and maintain your honor and dignity.

To ensure you have a say in matters which impact you and to make a difference, you need to find a way to participate intelligently in workplace politics. Click To Tweet

How do I find my own Political Sweet Spot at Work?

The secret to finding your sweet spot in the politics at your workplace is learning how to influence people. Click To Tweet

Terry Bacon suggests using a culturally appropriate balance of push and pull comments and actions to negotiate your influence and power in a situation. Every culture has its own balance of push and pull strategies, here are some of them:



● Logical persuading ● Consulting
● Stating ● Socializing
● Appealing to reason ● Building consensus
● Legitimizing ● Asking for opinions
● Rules and regulations ● Appealing to emotion
● Role in the organization ● Building alliances
● History ● Reputation in the organization
● Using names and powerful alliances in conversation ● Character
● Explaining ● Attraction
● Offering to help

Gaining Influence in the Canadian Workplace: An Example

Consider the example of an accountant who has a workplace political issue with a colleague and is speaking to the manager. Follow the listed steps for a healthy solution to resolving workplace politics by gaining influence.

  1. Short statement showing legitimacy and role: “I know you hired me because I am a good accountant and you know you can rely on the quality of my work. Since I am responsible for the financial reporting of our organization, I make sure I always know what our expenses and revenue are.”
  2. Seek agreement: “Wouldn’t you agree that knowing our finances requires having access to accurate financial information?”
  3. Show advantage to the listener: “After all, being able to clearly explain our notes to the auditor is a definite trust issue for both our board and CRA.”
  4. Solidify agreement: “Just checking – is it important for you that I provide accurate numbers to the board and report ethically to the CRA?”
  5. If this… then…: “So to be clear, if I am to do my job with confidence and due diligence, I will need to have complete access to all our numbers.”
  6. Seek agreement with the intent to gain (ask them to make an ethical choice): “Or did I miss something?”
  7. Show understanding of the political situation: “I’m sure you agree that I can’t possibly provide an accurate financial report if information is being withheld. So can you think of any reason why (name) would not want to share important financial information with me? I am, after all, responsible for all our books and if something is wrong, it is my fault.
  8. Wait in silence and watch: Wait as long as necessary. Don’t jump in with any comments.
  9. State your needs clearly: “I need your assistance to get (name) to provide me with the necessary financial information without any pushback.”
  10. Gain commitment: “Do I have a commitment from you to ensure that (name) provides me with the necessary financial records so I can do my work accurately?”
  11. Secure date and time: “By when?”
  12. Follow up paper trail: “I really appreciate your help. I’ll follow up with an email summarizing your conversation and save a reminder in my calendar to get back to you on (appointed date and time).”
  13. Follow up with emotional scaffold: “Thanks for your support. It’s good to know we can work together on issues so they don’t become problems later on.”

Four Characteristics of Politically Capable People

Gerald Ferris claims there are four good politics characteristics. Rank yourself on these to understand where you stand on good politics in the workplace.

  1. Social astuteness: self and other awareness – you understand your emotions, thoughts and what others’ needs and emotions are
  2. Interpersonal influence: the ability to affect how and what other people think
  3. Networking ability: forming mutually beneficial relationships with a wide range of diverse people, which is the key to establishing political influence
  4. Apparent sincerity: visibly appearing to others as honest, open and forthright

Negotiating the Politics at your Workplace

For each of the following situations you are likely to face at work, use the guiding principles and strategies to emerge victorious:

  1. You’re angry about a decision that affects you
    • Principle: Write it down (this takes the emotion out of the situation), then think about it.
    • Strategy: Consider the repercussions, then create a strategy.
  2. You need to make critical comments in a public forum
    • Principle: Be honest and kind. Practice diplomacy.
    • Strategy: Speak to hot topics with a cool head. Don’t say anything in anger. Ask yourself if your comment will help or hinder the process.
  3. A colleague loses temper on you
    • Principle: Get assistance, look for a witness. Try to calm the colleague.
    • Strategy: Match the tone but not the content. When a colleague is calm, find out what is at the root of the issue with probing questions. If you can’t, get assistance.

What Are Political Games?

The following are typical bad politics games played at the workplace. Watch out for them so you can be intentional about what you can do.

  1. Power games – these are played when people feel insecure, unsafe or not knowledgeable
    • The suck up game – I think you’re wonderful, so you have to like me.
      • Emotional Payoff: I only feel safe when I’m liked.
    • The control game – You can’t tell me what to do.
      • Emotional Payoff: I get to do what I want.
    • The shunning game – If you don’t fit in, we’re going to get you.
      • Emotional Payoff: We’re more powerful because we can punish people.
  2. Ego games
    • The superiority game – Aren’t you impressed with me?
      • Emotional Payoff: I can make others believe that I’m important and special.
    • The put-down game – You’re an idiot, so I must be brilliant.
      • Emotional Payoff: By demonstrating my superiority over others, I can feel less inferior myself.
    • The in-group game – You’d like to be one of us, but you can’t.
      • Emotional Payoff: Being part of an exclusive group makes me feel special.
  3. Escape games
    • The scapegoat game – This problem was clearly your fault.
      • Emotional Payoff: If I’m not the cause of the problem, then I don’t have to feel responsible, guilty or foolish.
    • The avoidance game – I don’t want to do it, so I’m not going to.
      • Emotional Payoff: I can reduce my anxiety by not thinking about an unpleasant task.

How To Manage Everyday Workplace Situations

For each of the following examples, use the options provided to manage the situation:

  1. Your boss is a control freak
    • Build allies, engage others to help.
    • Use an influence-gaining strategy to get some space and trust to do your work.
    • Show integrity and take the high road.
    • Get to know the boss better and find something likable to compliment.
    • Use silence, competition, avoidance or collaboration.
  2. You made a very public mistake that requires an apology
    • Find a way to make a truly sincere apology and a concrete way to make amends and rebuild trust.
    • Show what you have done to make amends already.
    • Explain the context of the mistake and ask others what could be done to avoid having this happen.
  3. You are being gaslighted – people are denying they’re bullying you
    • Document everything.
    • Confront the gaslighter.
    • Speak about this to an upper manager or an HR person.
    • Ask the gaslighter what they are trying to gain – destroy you or put you in the line of fire.
    • File a psychological complaint or harassment complaint (with the Occupational Health and Safety Department).

Think about other situations you are currently facing or situations you could be in and come up with a handy list of strategies you can rely on and use that as a ready reckoner when you need to! Would you like to share your experience with negotiating the politics at your workplace? Write it to

About Marie:

Marie Gervais, PhD., CEO of Shift Management Inc., provides managerial training and workforce interpersonal development to business and industry through online courses and web coaching. She helps individuals and organizations build talent and skills for leadership, communication, and conflict resolution particularly at the supervisory and middle management level. Her work has gained a reputation for excellence in integration and inclusion of the diverse workforce. With her team at Shift Management, Dr Gervais helps clients reach their business goals through team building coaching and industry-specific training development for interpersonal leadership skills. Her impactful digital and multi-media resources have been successfully implemented with many different populations and contexts. The results prove that a learning workplace is a happy and profitable one!

Check out Marie’s podcast Culture and Leadership Connections on Apple Podcasts and on the Shift website to hear stories of leadership and all things cultural. Consider the signature Supervisory Leadership Certificate Course for upskilling your workforce at:

Contact information:

780 993 1062