HBR Guide to Office Politics: Summary & Review

HBR guide to office politics book cover

HBR Guide to Office Politics teaches readers how to effectively navigate office politics to ethically achieve win-wins, and develop a successful career.


About the Autor: There is no author’s name and surname here. Harvard Business Review (HBR) publishes articles, books, and information on business and business leadership.

You Can’t Escape Politics

Office politics is what naturally happens when you put a bunch of people in an office.

People are politics, and if you want to achieve anything through people, you need to understand politics.
The sooner you accept it, the better your life and career will be.

Say the authors:

So what’s the solution? It’s about being constructively political—understanding personal dynamics among colleagues, working together for mutual advantage, and ultimately focusing on the good of the enterprise.

Embrace Politics, or Your Career Will Suffer

People who try to stay completely out of politics are far less likely to have a good career, or to reach their career goals, compared to those who accept politics as a fact of life.

Another way people approach politics is as a tool for excuse-making.

Says Ashkenas:

It’s easy to use politics as an excuse for a lack of achievement or an outlet for your frustration. But it’s a lot more effective to use politics as a way to get things done.

Dealing With A Boss Who Holds You Back

Meet up with him, and be constructive. 
Nothing good will come out with you starting off attacking and complaining.

Ask him what you can do to better support him. 
And then, once you have established a positive atmosphere, make it clear that you also want to grow.

With a Control-Freak Boss, Find Out What He’s Afraid Of

First of all, see if you are the exception.

If he is only micromanaging you, is it because you’re new and learning the ropes?
If so, accept it as an opportunity to learn.
If he is only micromanaging you and it’s been a while, you need to take a hard look at the quality of your work. 
Some bosses prefer to micromanage than being honest and telling employees where they are falling short. Help him out, seek that feedback, ask where you can improve, how you can help him better.

If it’s none of the above, consider that control-freaks and micromanagers sometimes are worried about something. 
It might be that he’s afraid of restructuring, and he wants to ensure good work. Or he might be intimidated by your own potential.
Whatever it is, if you find out, you will know how to allieviate his fears.

And show him that he can trust you. Bot on delivering good job, and on being on his side.

Also read:

Managing Your Boss For Ruthless Career Advancement

To Deal With Bullies, Offer an Olive Branch

First off, you want to make sure that someone is being a bully and you’re not being touchy.

Ask some friends what they think of the bullies’ behavior. Especially valuable feedback is to ask what they think when both of you observed the same behavior.
If others don’t feel like he was being a bully, it’s possible that you might have to re-adjust your perceptions of what being competitive means.

And what if he truly is a bully?
The first advice HBR provides is to extend an olive branch.

They say:

If he’s intentionally pushing you around, he’s assuming you’re his adversary. So show him that you want to be on the same team.

I agree with that technique. It’s always best to try to turn someone into a friend -or a neutral- before you make him an enemy.

Other techniques:

  • Find strength in numbers: there is power in banding together and supporting each other
  • Book a one-on-one meeting: the simple fact you’re willing to confront will make most bullies move on to easier preys

And what do you if the bully is your boss?
You still need to draw a line: bullying is emotionally, mentally, and even physically unhealthy. 
Read here:

How to Set Boundaries With Dominant Bosses: Case Study

Managing Disgruntled Former Peers When You’ve Become the Boss

People will feel bad when you were previously colleagues and now you’ve become the boss.
You must accept that, it’s a fact of life. Most of us compare ourselves to others, and when we see the people close to us do great, we feel bad because it means we are not going great.

So as soon as you become the boss, you want to set a meeting to clarify.
Do not set the meeting in your office, as that would make him feel like you’re trying to pull ranks. Use a neutral location, or go for a walk. Or, even better, meet him at a location he likes and feel good in.

If worst comes to worst and you can’t just get to work with disgruntled former colleagues, you need to “pull rank”, as the authors say, and give them one last chance in the form of an ultimatum:

We can do this the easy way or the hard way.
The easy way is I’ll support you, you’ll support me, and we’ll work together.
The hard way? If you don’t come around, we’ll have to start making things formal. We’ll have (..) performance reviews. If you continue to rebel and aren’t meeting your goals, I will take up the matter with HR in formal disciplinary proceedings. All things considered, I’d like to do it the easy way.

Also read:

More Wisdom

  • Don’t accept a boss pitching you against your colleagues: talk to him and say you’d rather collaborate, show him why you can do a better job as a team, which will also reflect well on him. If all else fails, agree with your colleague on a fair way of cooperating 
  • If your company has a clique of highly successful people, ask one of them to mentor you
  • Go to company’s social events: not going says you don’t care about the company and your colleagues. Or worse, that you don’t see yourself staying for long. 
  • Linkedin changes can be the canary in the coal mine: when you see lots of people updating their Linkedin profiles with pictures, new descriptions, and new recommendations, that’s the sign that layoffs are taking place
  • Speak with your boss’ former reports: get in touch with the people who reported to your current boss. They can give you some great insights on who he is, what he likes, and how to get along with him
  • Only escalate a problem to your boss if you’ve tried everything: most managers aren’t that thrilled to fight your own battles


  • Sometimes more about “how things should” than “what really works”

Say the authors:

Don’t try to be the boss’s pet—be everyone’s pet. That is, devote your energy to being a terrific employee and colleague.

Well, yeah, sure, don’t only focus on your boss. But not prioritizing your relationship is also a mistake. The people who decide who gets promoted are certainly more important for your future than your colleagues. And your colleagues are certainly more important to you than the doorman.

This is not to say you should be mean to anyone, but to be effective and advance rapidly, prioritizing relationships pays off.

  • Some advice is good, but mostly tailored for job safety and not for truly driven people

The authors share the story of how a woman thrived and survived during firing and restructuring thanks to the expertise that she had acquired. 
The lady had become so good with PowerPoint that all the senior managers sought her to polish or create their presentations. 

Well, that’s great advice… For job security. 
But if you are driven, you truly don’t want to become the “PowerPoint guy”.

  • Sure they know how to make you feel like you haven’t gone to Harvard 🙂

I’m not a native speaker. 
But I have read enough that I go through most books without ever having to check what a words means.
Not on this book. 

An example:

Sure, he guffaws at his own jokes, but maybe he’s also great with spreadsheets. (...)  Maybe his persnickety report reviewing highlights your terrible typing skills.

With HBR you’re going to learn how to navigate politics with some serious big words in your arsenal :).


On avoiding petty revenge and being neutral:

I got a reference call for him out of the blue. (…) “It was kind of the revenge moment handed to me on a silver platter.” (…)  “I told the guy who called me that I’d call him back. (…) In the end, I gave him a fair review. I said I hadn’t enjoyed working with him, but I knew lots of people who did. It was hard, but I decided a slamming review would reflect worse on me than the guy. I actually felt better about myself after that.”

On avoiding to make enemies too easily:

Don’t write anybody off. Don’t succumb to negativity. Try to stay positive. Shifting alliances and relationships are what make human life interesting


I find “HBR Guide to Office Politics” to be a very good read for beginners. And I also appreciate it comes from a place of honesty and genuinity.

It also keeps stressing the basics, such as “look at yourself first”, “avoid jumping to negative conclusions”, and “put yourself in other people’s shoes”, which can’t be stated enough.

Some of the more advanced folks, though will find it a bit more basic, including some of the “wrong” examples of poor communications, that will be a bit too obvious for the more socially intelligent folks. 

Personally, I also find that it refrains from sharing some harsh truths, such as that the company’s interests sometimes diverge from your interests. And that what’s effective does not always overlap with what’s ethical.

All in all, I can recommend it to beginners. Readers of the ThePowerMoves.com should prioritize their learning with something else.

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Or get the book on Amazon

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