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Office Politics: 7 Types of people to understand (and how to deal with them)

“How can I stay out of office politics?” uttered with a small tone of panic, may be one of the most voiced questions in business. According to Accountemps, a Robert Half International, Inc. division, gossiping, playing up to the boss with flattery, and taking credit for others’ ideas or work are the most prevalent. Nearly every office has climbers, who try to advance themselves at all costs; hurdlers, who move ahead on the backs of co-workers, especially by taking credit for others’ work; and takers, who ask for ideas or help, but never seem to return the favors. Since it’s virtually impossible to avoid them, recognizing the archetypes in each of these categories can help you understand how to deal with office politics.

1. The office joker

At first glance, this co-worker seems to get along well with everyone, making light of everything. With some folks, this constant joking and laughing may be a genuine attempt to relieve tension, but the office joker often has an ulterior motive. Through laughter, she attempts to build relationships to garner preferential treatment or even to damage others’ reputations to advance her own career. If this person only makes jokes around supervisors and others with power, it’s probably safe to suspect an ulterior motive.

Watch your step around the office joker, but remember that she isn’t really your problem. The bosses will eventually realize that this joker has no real personal connections to team members, especially if she is making jokes at the expense of co-workers.

2. The office gossip

One of the most-often common office personalities, the gossip, knows all and tells all. Every office has one. He manages to hear all the in-office news and also becomes an expert on the personal lives and foibles of co-workers. Discretion is a foreign concept to him, so what he knows, he shares with anyone who stands still long enough.

Dealing with a gossip hound can be tricky since you’ll usually have to converse with him about projects. Keep the discussion strictly on business though. When the topic begins to drift to the personal, extricate yourself quickly with the excuse of pressing work and looming deadlines.

3. The office fawner

This is the staff member who is constantly flattering people, especially those in authority. She may also seem to compliment co-workers by asking for help and ideas with little reciprocation. If she’s good at compliments, it may be difficult to tell if she’s genuine. But most managers know how to identify a fake attitude and recognize and ignore or call out the flatterer.

4. The office saboteur

A grown-up version of the playground bully, the saboteur is openly and consistently critical of other team members, backstabbing co-workers and making them look bad. He’s unlikely to take any responsibility for his own faults or mistakes. Like the childhood bully, this office saboteur may back down when confronted. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, or if it’s ineffective, keep a detailed log of the interactions on a calendar or planner, recorded in an emotionally neutral language when possible, and discuss the situation with a manager or with a human resources worker.

5. The office credit poacher

You may have encountered this office pirate. She steals ideas from co-workers or passes off the work of others as her own. It can be difficult to counter the claims, but speaking up boldly and frequently to share your own ideas in front of colleagues in team meetings can help head the credit thief off. If talking in public is difficult for you, check out some tips on team-building as an introvert. Make sure you get an attribution for your work by updating your team manager frequently on your progress.

6. The office crusader

A political lobbyist could take lessons from the office crusader. He pushes hard to get folks on his side of just about any issue, and he can often sway opinions by attrition. There are several tactics for dealing with him:

  • Ignore him, so his cries go unheard
  • Voice your own views on projects, especially if you disagree with the lobbyist
  • Explain your position thoroughly as you may change his mind

7. The office coach

Always available to give advice, this person often has the ear of company leadership, which bestows on her a fair amount of indirect power. She serves as an unofficial consultant to managers and supervisors, keeping them informed and, possibly, acting as a gatekeeper for them. The best response to this office politician is to befriend her, taking full advantage of her behind-the-scenes influence.

These tips may help you survive the office politics wars. Be mindful of the different characters you come in contact with so you’re not caught off guard by any of their antics down the line.

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