The past five years, I worked as an executive across the corporate, nonprofit, and public sectors. Throughout these years, I wore my refusal to engage in office politics as a badge of honor. To anyone who would listen and perhaps even a few who wouldn’t. I really don’t have the stomach for all of that stuff. Politics are dreadful, dangerous, and unnecessary, and I’m simply too straightforward for all of the subterfuge they require. I don’t come to work to play games , I come to work to get things done.

The more I learned, the more I began to reflect on my career. Though I reached a great deal of success, there were also many opportunities I had missed and many times that I had faltered as a result of my lack of education around office politics. It’s not subject covered in most colleges or business schools, despite the fact that it’s essential to surviving (and thriving) in every work environment.

That’s why, in my work now, as a global consultant, I’ve made it a priority to educate professionals at every stage in their careers on organizational politics and how to navigate them at work.

How many times have you heard someone say, or perhaps even found yourself saying, “I don’t do politics. My work should speak for itself.” Carla Harris, vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, has a saying I like better: “You can’t let your work speak for you; work doesn’t speak.”

Many of us have a deeply held view that talent and hard work should be all that one needs to succeed. I think what lies at the heart of this belief is that so many of us treat work like school. When we are at school, it is generally a given that if we work hard and master the subject material, we will get good marks and proceed to the next level. In the workplace though, thinking like this is a risk and a mistake because the reality at work is that invisible contributions have no value.

In the absence of in-person interactions, surely all the power play and informal maneuvering tactics employed in office politics disappear? Anyone who has shifted to remote work during the pandemic knows that that this is not the case.

While research shows that office politics diminish in online environments, there’s no evidence that they disappear entirely. This isn’t surprising most human beings are much more driven by the informal and political than they are by the formal and prescribed. Again, this can either be negative or positive, but it is a key part of human behavior, no matter what kind of environment we are operating in.

People who think they “don’t play politics” are often very surprised to hear that when they are “taking something offline,” “socializing” their idea with decision makers in advance of a more formal meeting, or “just having a chat” with someone they think can help them to be more effective, they are in fact engaging in political activities. This is true whether you are doing these things in person or remotely.

What you can do: Now that you understand the truth behind these myths, let’s take a look at what you can do to ease yourself into playing “office politics” well.

Reframe what “politics” means to you.

Start to be aware of your language and how it is framing your reality, specifically how it frames the way you understand the work environment and how you choose to show up in it.

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