If your office is a nest for gossip and backstabbing, do your best to separate yourself from it. Office politics are a slippery slope, and once you start participating, it's hard to stop. These tips will help you focus on what you're in the office to do: get your work done.
1. Remember what your mother taught you. When a co-worker starts bad-mouthing another colleague, don't engage. "If someone wants to be negative and down others, run quietly," says author John Dowd, Jr., "Always be a nice person."
Remember when your mother taught you that if you didn't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all? Sometimes, though, we don't really have anything negative to say; we simply want to commiserate with a co-worker so they'll like us. Resist the urge, and ask yourself if you really want a friend who talks badly about others. You could be the next target.
2. Don't believe everything you hear. It's easy to get sucked into hearsay. When a co-worker tells you your boss is having an affair with the accountant, leave it alone. It may or may not be true, but ultimately the gossip doesn't affect your ability to work, so it doesn't matter either way.
If there is gossip about the company laying people off or other news that actually does affect you, you'll find out soon enough if it's true, so just wait for an official announcement. If it doesn't come, it wasn't reliable information.
3. Find friends elsewhere. Having workplace friendships is tricky business. Sometimes you find that what drew you to the person in the first place now turns you off, especially if that individual engages in gossip. Realize you don't have to be friends with people you work with. "Think friendly, not friends," says Kathi Elster of K Squared Enterprises and co-author of Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal.
You can be affable and approachable without developing every work relationship into a friendship. Friendly banter is perfectly acceptable, but don't feel obligated to join the team after work for drinks. If the friendship doesn't work out, it makes your work environment incredibly stressful.
4. Stay clear of the water cooler. If you know that the office politics players meet up after every meeting to strategize about how to play the boss or gossip about what Lucy is wearing, steer clear of these "counterproductive meetings-after-the-meeting," says Linda Galindo, president of Galindo Consulting, Inc. "Get out of the 'game' by excusing yourself from these activities professionally," she explains, adding that you can also make excuses. Pretend you received a text message or phone call to exit an uncomfortable situation.
5. Don't worry what people think. People who gossip will gossip. They'll gossip about you, and you can't change that. Don't worry about being accepted by people who distract themselves from doing a good job at work by talking about others.
Instead, says Dowd, do your very best at work. Be yourself. "Be a little early to meetings, meet or beat deadlines, under promise and over deliver on projects," he suggests.
Realize that work shouldn't be a popularity contest, and any co-workers who create cliques like they did in high school aren't role models for you.
6. Find people you can trust. Not everyone in your office is into playing politics. Find a few co-workers you can trust, and try to work with them when you can. You'll find relief in working with people who, just like you, are dedicated to doing a good job at the task they've been assigned, not gathering in the corner to talk about everyone in the office.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.