How Office Politics Works

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff Mom Never Told You from

Cristen: Hello, Molly.

Molly: Hello, Cristen.

Cristen: Molly, I've got a question for you.

Molly: Okay.

Cristen: Molly, do you think that we, you and I, we, work in a male dominated industry?

Molly: What do you define our industry as?

Cristen: Well, we work for a website, so I'm thinking more like tech, web, internet.

Molly: Interesting because I would think more that I worked in communications, journalism etc. What I think is sort of interesting about How Stuff Works is yes, I would agree with you that web tech seems a little more male dominated, but I feel like communications is a little more female dominated.

Cristen: True.

Molly: So I think we're at like a crossroads.

Cristen: Yeah? Well would you be nervous about working in a male dominated industry?

Molly: You know, I've never really had that experience, have you?

Cristen: No.

Molly: I mean, my last job, there were only 4 guys on the staff. It was a staff of 60, there were 4 guys.

Cristen: Four guys, that's it?

Molly: Yeah.

Cristen: I bet it was a breeze, huh?

Molly: No, it was not.

Cristen: Why, was it a catty office?

Molly: It was kind of - Well I don't know, now I'm scared someone's gonna hear it from my last office, but I mean, I would say there were times when yeah, it was fairly catty, and I think that when women compete against each other in some ways, it almost feels more personal than business.

Cristen: Yeah, I can see how office politics in an all female office could get a little testy sometimes.

Molly: A little testy, but also sometimes you kind of be resentful that when you were actually trying to do something to get ahead, and it didn't go well, people were moody and upset, and would just say oh, this whole office is having their period at the same time.

Cristen: Which I find that insulting.

Molly: Exactly, I mean it was just like, no, how could all of us be having our period at the same time?

Cristen: That would be kind of gross, but thankfully we are not working in an all female office. We are - I wouldn't say that we are in necessarily a male-dominated office or anything like that, but we have male bosses, and there's definitely a lot of office politics you have to play, whether you work in a male-dominated or a female-dominated office.

Molly: Yeah, I mean everyone needs to play office politics at some point. I think the bad thing though is that just the term office politics, is such a turn off.

Cristen: Yeah, yeah, I don't think - I never think of myself as some kind of office politician.

Molly: Well Cristen, you're an office politician whether you want to be one or not basically because everyone is involved in office politics. I mean it's kind of a dirty term, but it simply refers to like the dynamics of power that go on in any office, and even though we think that what we can do is just stay in our cubical, and do the job the best we can do, office politics affects you.

Cristen: Office politics definitely affects you, and it affects you more than you would actually think. Experts have found that office politics is the No. 1 indicator of how far you'll succeed in your job, more so than brains or your personality, and when I read that, I was kind of astounded because you know, as a female, I was definitely, at this time, in 2008 as a female where I am now, I was definitely raised to think that as a woman, my brains could take me as far as I needed, but really its politics.

Molly: It's still politics, and so you still have to kind of go utilized and kind of market yourself, kind of get around everyone, and be like, here's what I'm doing.

Cristen: Yeah, so when you first get a job, you know, on the first day, that's when the politics starts, and the first thing you want to do is sort of get the lay of the land. You want to listen before you speak.

Molly: Yeah, you get the lay of the land because office politics just starts with getting along with your coworkers. It sounds really simple, but that's the heart of it.

Cristen: It is the heart of it, and as females though, when you are building those first relationships, I think that it's very easy, especially if you are getting to know other female coworkers to dive into gossip because you know I mean it sounds really cliché, you know women like to gossip, but let's face it Molly, if you're getting to know another girl, the easiest way, whether it is celebrity gossip or people you know, whoever, the easiest way to forge that new relationship is to, you know, just dish.

Molly: Dish the dirt.

Cristen: Dish the dirt.

Molly: And I think it starts off - I think we don't even realize we are sliding into that slippery slope because it might just start in the bathroom after a meeting, going like gosh, it was awkward when that guy went off on that tangent.

Cristen: Yeah, or maybe like you think it's something funny to say about somebody, but really once you start getting into office gossip, you are failing at politics.

Molly: You're failing, and you probably unknowingly have started sort of a click or a faction within the office, and then you kind of become known by it.

Cristen: Yeah, and you really, you want to stay away from getting pigeon holed into one group of people. Obviously you're gonna have some people who you're gonna get along better with than others, but at the same time, you need to - In order to be a successful politician, you need to try and diversify your friends as much as possible, so that if you get stuck in a hard place, you have multiple resources that you can go to for help.

Molly: Yeah, it's the exact opposite of a reality show, not just one alliance.

Cristen: No alliances. This is not Survivor, although you are looking out just for yourself, but -

Molly: See that's where I think office politics gets so dirty for people is that you have to both get along with people, and yet compete with them.

Cristen: Yeah, well one thing that might make it easier is kind of having a guide. People recommend finding a mentor or some type of role model. It doesn't have to be a female, it could be male or female, but just someone who has been in your office long enough to really know how things work, who makes the decisions, things that you might not be able to initially pick up on, you know, just having some casual lunches or break room encounters with people.

Molly: Yeah, I think they can guide you the power of infrastructure, but it's also someone just to go to when you do run into that catty coworker who insists on always kind of putting you down. I mean, it's gonna happen at some point, so it's probably good to have someone in your corner who is gonna have an ear to the ground, and be able to help you when that situation comes up.

Cristen: And you also need to learn to self-advocate. As you work someplace for a while, hopefully you're doing some things, getting some good accomplishments, and when the time comes, maybe you're taking an elevator ride with the boss, figure out a way to sort of self-promote, talk about the awesome things that you've been doing, like Molly, maybe you just wrote a stellar article that got like two million hits or something.

Molly: Yeah, or maybe you know, we can talk about oh, we just had a great day podcasting.

Cristen: We just had a wonderful podcast, yes. Give me a raise. No it wouldn't be that easy.

Molly: I wish.

Cristen: I wish, but yeah, I think that it just all goes into diversifying.

Molly: Diversifying your friends, but you know, I think we can admit Cristen, that we have an easy - Like we said, we don't really work in a male-dominated office. We sit beside each other in our cubicles, we work together, but it's not like we've ever been in competition with a ton of other males.

Cristen: Other males, right, but you know, if that were the case, there are definite some ways that women can hold their own in a male-dominated office. We got a little help from The Wall Street Journal that just published an article offering some tips for women, especially in jobs like engineering, computer science, things like that, when you might be one of just a handful of females.

Molly: So with our very limited experience being in a male-dominated workplace, we're gonna try and see if we can decipher the value of these tips.

Cristen: Molly, the one that I found, I think the most interesting was differentiating between alpha and beta males. You know, you think about the wolf pack. You've got the alpha wolf who is the leader of the pack, and sort of gives the orders, and you know, it's a no brainer, it's the same thing in the office. Your alpha males are gonna be your get it done, the go getters, always have a new idea on the horizon, and when you are talking to them, you want to use very goal-oriented, succinct, powerful language. You know, to kind of put yourself a little more on their level, but when you're talking to beta males, who are gonna be more interested in collaborating in partnership, you're gonna want to use a little more of that, like open networking-type of conversation.

Molly: Right, you don't hear about beta males quite as much, but it sounds like they'd be great partners for when you do have sort of a group project you can bring people in on, they'll help you kind of shine I think in your own way.

Cristen: Yeah, or if you just need, you know if you're stuck on a topic, it's somebody you can go to who can kind of help you out a little bit.

Molly: But when you're dealing with any male, alpha or beta, there are some things you can do to try and sort of adjust your language, and I think these hold true whether you're in a male dominating world or not, but I know that we always sort of start sentences with I think. Well, I think, or maybe we could try.

Cristen: Yeah, very kind of like oh, I'm not so sure. Get rid of it. You need to use declarative sentences. Walk up to John, the alpha male, and say John, this new podcast of mine and Molly's is fantastic, and I think you should listen to it.

Molly: Right, be confident, be assertive, and it sounds like something that's really easy and obvious, but women still just don't do it.

Cristen: Yeah, I use the phrase I'm sorry all the time, and I'm really sorry.

Molly: Eliminate it.

Cristen: I don't know why I say it, but yeah, women I think they just use it sort of like as a verbal crutch, like oh, I'm so sorry, I know you're busy right now, but I just had to - No.

Molly: No.

Cristen: They need to make time for you.

Molly: Make time for it, and be like hey, do it.

Cristen: Do it. Also, once the work is done, and maybe it's time for happy hour, socialize with the boys.

Molly: Right, invite yourself along if you have to.

Cristen: Well, yeah. It might seem kind of awkward, but it will benefit you because when Molly and I were talking about that, you know, stereotypical catty female office gossip, the fact of the matter is, men gossip, too. I know for a fact that men gossip.

Molly: Yeah, and you just think about like how many deals are probably made at the sports bar, and not in the office. You need to be there for that.

Cristen: Yeah, and you need to be able to kind of see the dynamics between the different men going back to that alpha beta male differentiation, just to try and help you get the lay of the land, and also the next day at work, after you've been out, had some beers, enjoyed some laughs, I think it kind of makes you one of them a little bit more.

Molly: Yeah, get in with the thing, and this is - You know, earlier we were talking about getting the lay of the land, listening to gossip, and not participating it in, but that's how you can find out where the boys are going basically. I mean, I'm not suggesting that anyone should get in their car, and follow the boys.

Cristen: Don't be a stalker.

Molly: But, you know, you hear things, you should follow up on them.

Cristen: Yeah, but the next day - All right, so let's say Wednesday you go out to Wednesday happy hour, Thursday morning, what you should not do Molly, is bring coffee and donuts for the guys.

Molly: To help with their hangovers.

Cristen: Yeah, wouldn't that be fun. No. Mother hens, stay at home. You want to avoid all stereotypical female subservient roles.

Molly: Right, specifically subservient, but I guess the only thing that bothers me about this male dominated workplace is that you can't actually be sort of female within it. You know what I'm saying?

Cristen: How so?

Molly: Because you know, yes you shouldn't be the mother hen, but let's say you know, you still want to be a female, don't you?

Cristen: Well, I think that you can be a female without cleaning up after board meetings, or having to always be the donut girl.

Molly: The donut lady.

Cr isten: Yeah.

Molly: But basically what we want to avoid, I guess is a stereotype that all female CEOs are you know, cold, hard and words that rhyme with witches.

Cristen: Yes, being witches, as Molly said, is kind of, you know a pit fall once you do hit that career ladder because there have been multiple studies that I have run across just sort of researching on this topic, I found that once women do assume leadership roles, they're perceived more negatively than men, and it's a reaction to that violation of those, you know stereotypical female roles, so I think it is definitely a tight line that we have to walk right now, but I think it also has to do with the fact that we are socially in a shift right now, you know, Fortune 500 companies, look at the CEOs. It's gonna be older, white males, but I think that the tide is shifting to maybe a few more females in those higher positions, and I think until we get to that point to where it is a little more equal across the board, I think that we do have to sort of abandon, you know, that stereotypical female that might want to eek out every now and then.

Molly: Yeah, but I think that this is, you know, maybe where we can come back and circle around is, you know, this is where you can use your brains to get ahead. I mean, yes, we're gonna have to work harder, and be smarter in terms of how we're gonna get along with the boys, but that's no less an achievement than just working hard and doing good work.

Cristen: Yeah.

Molly: I mean, just work hard, play hard, I guess.

Cristen: Work hard, play hard, and definitely keep in mind the networking. I think it's just so easy to get stuck into a work clique, and not even realize it until you get you know, in a rough spot, and you have nowhere to turn.

Molly: Yeah, so stay on your toes.

Cristen: Stay on your toes, build alliances, and don't forget -

Molly: Don't forget the politics.

Cristen: It is politics you know, but smart politics. Don't think about it as dirty politics. Just think about it as smart politics.

Molly: Yeah. So if you need more tips on how to play office politics, male or female, we have an article called How Office Politics Works at

Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit