Strategies to overcome office politics

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Understanding the work environment is fundamentally important for career success and the key to navigating office politics is strengthen your awareness of political skills.

Navigating politics varies across businesses, but there are some fundamental political skills that everyone can practice, making most interactions peaceful and fruitful.

Awareness is essential

We often exhibit and witness workplace politics without even realizing it. The best way to conquer them is to strengthen your awareness of these behaviors.

At its core, politics is just the dealings and interactions with others. The Baddeley and James Political Skills Model is an insightful tool broken into four quadrants. The model measures subject integrity from high to low and emotional/environmental awareness of others.

Before we dive into understanding the model, it is important to be aware that we exhibit a myriad of behaviors during our lifetime. It is rare for someone to remain in the same quadrant throughout their adult life.

The animal behaviors of office politics [Baddeley and James Political Skills Model]

This model is a great way to help build awareness of your own behaviors as well as those of others.

  • Sheep (Innocent): Individuals who have high integrity but low awareness. These individuals rely on authority. In a work situation, they are given lots of work and have a deep sense of loyalty to superiors and stick to the organizational rules without questioning them. Sheep are blind to hidden messages and social cues because they do not read between the lines. They are wonderful colleagues and are often innocent to a fault.
  • Donkey (Inept): The donkey or inept behavior type has low integrity and low awareness. They exhibit behavior that is simplistic, insecure and unprincipled. Donkeys tell you what you want to hear (if they can figure that out), saying the right things but rarely appear authentic. They focus on the end instead of the means and rarely can think far ahead.
  • Fox (Clever): When low integrity meets a high political awareness, you have the fox behavior type. These people are very aware and can spot sheep and donkey behavior instantly. They are cunning and can manipulate others to push forward their own agenda. They want to be perceived as powerful and exploit weakness to their own advantage and may create secrecy, fear, and doubt in others.
  • Owl (Wise): This category is a behavior we should all strive to achieve. The owl behavior has high integrity and high political awareness. Owls always know what is going on around them. Their role in leadership is to expose foxes while protecting sheep and donkeys. Owls are credible leaders who can cope with being disliked and have excellent emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. They are great listeners and negotiate with honesty.

Understand that these are not labels but behavioral qualifiers. That means with professional development and self-work, the behaviors can be changed.

Strategies to overcome office politics

If you encounter a difficult person at work, before reacting, pause. It is wise to assess the situation and determine if sheep, fox, donkey, or owl behaviors are involved. Before responding to the situation, ask yourself, “which behavior am I exhibiting if I take a certain action?” Would I be a sheep, donkey, fox or owl? Next, ask yourself “what behavior do I want to exhibit that represents who I am and who I want to be?” If your answer is the same as before, then you are on the right track.

Beyond awareness, what more can we do? Here are some other strategies you can try:

  • Take inventory of your feelings. When you’re faced with a situation at work that causes your emotional stress levels to rise, pause for a moment and do an inventory of your feelings. For example, if a colleague blatantly ignores you when you ask for help, ask yourself “why do I feel angry and upset?” By processing these feelings, you’ll give yourself a time buffer to contemplate your next step instead of reacting impulsively.
  1. Dissociate your negative emotion. Once you’ve taken inventory of your feelings, pause and rephrase your emotion. If you are in an angry state say, “I am not angry. There is anger in me.” There is a difference. An uninvited negative emotion has penetrated you and you need to get rid of it.
  2. Remove yourself from the trigger. Whether it is a heated argument with a colleague or a blatant show of disrespect from a customer, try to immediately remove yourself from the situation gracefully. Grab a drink of water, ask for a few minutes to collect your thoughts. If you can’t leave your physical workspace, try standing instead of sitting, or face in a different direction for a few moments.
  3. Channel your empathy. Be attuned to the things that wake up your human side. Empathy can pacify negative emotions instantly. Try to remind yourself that the trigger is someone’s partner, son, daughter, friend etc.
  4. Take notes and shred them. Sometimes it helps to get your frustrations and negative emotions out on paper. Write exactly what you want to say and then shred them. The simple act of writing down your feelings can help you remain calm.

With proper awareness, empathy, and the right attitude, you can navigate workplace politics and co-exist peacefully with difficult people. Always remember you are in control of your emotions and your actions. However, you cannot control the emotions or actions of others.

Salman RazaAbout the author

Salman Raza is author of Life’s Non-Conformities: An Auditor’s Tale of Practical Application of Social, Emotional & Behavioral Strategies, out now, priced £18.99 available on and Amazon.



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