I Just Work Here

How to dodge office politics

Some suggestions for avoiding business as usual in a new workplace. Plus: Whose side is HR on?

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How do you navigate the office politics in a new workplace? (Getty Images / September 25, 2011)

Let's talk briefly about a term that's sweeping the nation: "class warfare."

Aside from sounding like a potentially awesome video game, class warfare is, according to the Internet, a "conflict between social or economic classes, especially between the capitalist and proletariat classes." I don't really know what all those words mean, but I do know that this term is dumb and not very helpful at the moment.

While millions of Americans are out of work and millions more cling to jobs, our political discourse is:

"You want to raise taxes on the rich, that's class warfare."

"Oh, yeah. Well, you've been waging class warfare on the middle-class for years."


"Yeah huh."


"Double pffft!!"

Stop it. Please.

Whatever your ideology or opinion on the best way to fix the economy, divisive buzzwords are not the way to go. As someone who routinely hears the plight of people worried about work, I assure you the last thing Americans want is heated rhetoric and imagery that suggests torch-wielding peasants are about to invade the Hamptons.

Thank you. On to your questions.

Q: What's the best way for a newbie to avoid office politics and still fit in with the rest of the crowd?

— Dave in Chicago, via Facebook

You may want to sit down, because I'm about to go Greek mythology on this question.

In Homer's tragically long poem "The Odyssey," the heroic Odysseus and his ship-bound roommates must pass "the sirens," bird-women who live on an island and hypnotize sailors with their voices, causing their ships to crash on the rocky shores.

Gossips, cynics and backstabbers are the sirens of the workplace. They're seductive, particularly to newcomers, and they're awfully hard to avoid.

Odysseus made it past the sirens by having his crewmen tie him to the mast and fill their ears with wax. That approach doesn't seem applicable to the workplace, so I consulted some career experts.

Bud Bilanich, a career success coach in Denver who calls himself "The Common-Sense Guy," said office cynics will invariably look to recruit a new person.

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