Health: How to cope with the nastier side of office politics

Oliver James says there are three main types of person who's prepared to play dirty in the office. P

Oliver James says there are three main types of person who's prepared to play dirty in the office. Picture: PA Photo/Ben Lister. - Credit: PA

Work can be a wicked world these days. If you’re not crippled by the workload and pressure, there’s the office politics to contend with, whether it’s backstabbing, dirty tactics or gossip.

Hone tactics on how to deal with toxic colleagues. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

Hone tactics on how to deal with toxic colleagues. Picture: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. - Credit: PA

While some use them to great effect, many people have experienced, or seen the effect on others, of toxic scenarios - a boss unfairly favouring a charming employee, tears in the toilet as someone feels excluded from the office “inner circle”, or an employee ruthlessly taking credit for another’s efforts.

Office Politics: How To Thrive In A World Of Lying, Backstabbing And Dirty Tricks by Oliver James, p

Office Politics: How To Thrive In A World Of Lying, Backstabbing And Dirty Tricks by Oliver James, published by Vermillion, £20. Available now. Picture: Photo/Vermillion. - Credit: PA

Surprisingly, psychologist Oliver James says although there’s plenty to deplore about underhand games, it’s vital to learn how to use office politics to gain career success.

“Resources, whether that be pay, promotion or good jobs, are finite and we all have to be political, to some degree, in order to get them,” he says.

“So not only do you need to be skilled at office politics to thrive, you need it to spot whether people are stitching you up and use it to avoid trouble.”


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There’s even more need to learn to be skilful at office “games” because our hard recessionary times are making them more prevalent, says James, author of Office Politics - How To Thrive In A World Of Lying, Backstabbing And Dirty Tricks.

He identifies four elements of political skill which, if they’re honed, will allow you navigate your way through to workplace success.

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Political animals:

Though even the best of us manipulate, there are some characters who do it in altogether nastier fashion.

James outlines three types of toxic individuals who are rife in the workplace and likely to be high up in the office hierarchy: the Machiavellian, the narcissist and the psychopath.

“These people are lying to you all the time and telling things to your peers and bosses that you simply can’t imagine people would do,” says James.

“Never underestimate these people. They’re desperate and if they have nothing better to do, they’ll make up a pack of lies about you just to pass the time of day.”

Dealing with psychopaths:

They may not be Norman Bates but if you’re blighted by a colleague who is frostier than Antarctica, you could have a low-level psychopath in your midst.

“The psychopath is impulsive, callous and lacks fellow feelings,” says James.

“They’re somebody who will come into the office and find out that somebody’s parent has died. Other people will feel empathy - not the psychopath, they’ll be calculated and think, ‘Hmm, I wonder how this can benefit me?’

“They see it as an opportunity to manipulate or get closer for their own ends.”

- What can I do? Going forward, the best thing you can do is distance yourself, he says.

“Put as much organisational space between you and the psychopath as possible and try to get the hell out of there because these are not people you can do business with,” says James.

Dealing with Machiavels:

If you thought games were confined to the playground, think again, says James. The office Machiavel will treat furthering themselves as a sport.

“The Machiavel is a compulsive game player,” he says. “Machiavellians fall into healthy and unhealthy ones. The likes of Gandhi and Mandela were Machiavels but they didn’t work out of self-interest.

“The type of Machiavel I’m talking is toxic. They are often very compulsive and only feel comfortable if there is some kind of game going on where they can play and try to win.”

- What can I do? You might not know the rules to the Machiavel’s game but James suggests analysing the person’s motives.

“Try really hard to get your head around the fact that this person could be telling lies to you all the time,” he says.“Really allow yourself to think those thoughts and then you can make some kind of sense of what this person is up to.”

Dealing with narcissists:

“Ever find your ear being chewed off by a colleague harping on about themselves? Well, it looks like you’re lumbered with a narcissist.

“The narcissist is very easy to recognise because they’re so grandiose. They’re people who are trying to compensate for feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness through bigging themselves up,” says James.

“The most successful ones manage to conceal it and convert it into charm. Often you can feel a glamour about them which can kid you into making you think they include you as one of themselves.”

- What can I do? “Narcissists are the easiest to cope with because they respond so easily to flattery,” says James.

“But it has to be done cleverly with ingratiating tactics. Get somebody else to report that you’ve said something favourable about them.”

Information: Office Politics: How To Thrive In A World Of Lying, Backstabbing And Dirty Tricks by Oliver James is published by Vermillion, £20. Available now.

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