Humans are always going to seek advantage and try to influence events to go their way. Here's how to play nice.

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Politics are always a rather unpopular concept, but it feels even more so in election years. Especially, it seems, this year.

Nevertheless, the practice of “politics” is unavoidable, not only in our national life but in our own personal day-to-day existence.

The reason why is simple. Humans are always going to seek advantage and try to influence events to go their way, whether to advance their own power or to achieve some cause. It’s part of our nature.

The problem, of course, is the methods we sometimes use. Backstabbing, gossip, rumor, innuendo — these are the shenanigans that give politics such a negative reputation.

But the fact is, while you may be able to turn off the news, in the workplace you cannot completely avoid office politics. You can, however, learn how to survive them.

Your first goal should be to build broad alliances. It won’t help to just keep your head down and hope no one notices you. If your workplace consists of warring factions, you need people in all camps to know you are to be trusted and relied upon. So play positive politics by volunteering for important projects, maintaining a high profile with your boss and your boss’s boss, and visibly supporting others — even, or especially, potential adversaries.

Let people know what you’re about. Whatever you do, don’t take sides, get caught between adversaries or pit rivals against one another.

While others are descending to the level of finger-pointing and blame-gaming, you yourself should keep emotions in check. Make sure that your speech and actions always relate directly to the task at hand, bringing everything back to the organization’s mission and bottom line.

Recognize that you may need to pick your battles. Know what you are trying to achieve, what is important to you and what you would be willing to let slide. Seek to understand where people are coming from, and search for solutions in which all parties get a little of what they want. Think win-win.

Finally, if the level of competition and aggression at your current job is just over the top, keep in mind that you are allowed to choose your work environment. Somewhere out there is an organization more in line with your personality and values. You can find it.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at