Office Politics Trumped by Trustworthiness?

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Feb 24

Office politics can often be seen as a group of tactics to get people to do what you want them to do. While some of the tactics can work, there is a more fundamental issue that can help your overall cause: your trustworthiness.

This sounds simple, but it is not. What, exactly, is trustworthiness? The Harvard Business Review gives us some good definitions for business in The Dividends of Trustworthiness.


Benevolence, as a component of trustworthiness, means that you have good intentions towards other people. In an office politics situation, that means that the other person understands that your intentions are good for you and others in your group.

You can’t go and try to screw people over. It won’t work in the long run and people will turn against you. You can certainly advocate for strange and different approaches to problems — as long as your intentions are seen as benevolent.


In this component of trustworthiness, people assess you based on whether or not you adhere to principles they find acceptable. Not only must you have benevolence towards others, but your principles need to share common ground as well. Just as you can’t negotiate with a crazy-maker, if the principles you follow are so out of line with your coworkers, you won’t be trusted no matter how good the intentions.

This is particularly appropriate when looking for jobs; you must find a corporate experience that matches your principles about how you work. If those principles don’t match up well, you’ll never trust your coworkers and they will have a hard time trusting you.


Capability is all about producing results. Can you do what you intend? If so, when you say you will do something, people will trust that you will go and do it.

In an office politics situation, your ability to produce gives you credibility that your idea as well as implementing it makes sense. Because you produce results, it favors your ideas will get results.

Too often, office politics is viewed as a way to get something for nothing. As this component of trustworthiness shows, you have to produce results if you want to carry the day for what you advocate.

This is long term; a personal brand

You don’t build trustworthiness in a day. Or the first month on a new job. But as the article notes:

Trustworthiness is about history.

Decision makers judge you on the basis of your past exposure to them. They roll tape and remember things you’ve done in all manner of contexts, from last year’s holiday party to last week’s staff meeting.

How you are viewed is the sum total of all of those impressions you’ve made every day on the job. We often talk about trustworthiness, but we rarely talk through how you can move to that position. The way you do it is through benevolence, integrity and capability to produce results. Plus doing those activities every day.

The dividend? If you are viewed as trustworthy, “your trustworthiness will mitigate their negative reactions to any bone-headed tactics you might try to pull, such as being too pushy.”

You don’t have to “play” office politics to get what you want and need to do your job. But you need to be trustworthy.

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  • Good point on one's ability to say “no” to a given situation. That ability could also tie into integrity. Say your value is that you won't work 80 hours a week and you are starting to do just that. You can say no — but only if the corporate culture values not working 80 hours a week. It would be easier to say no with a friendly environment than one where working 80 hours a week is expected.

  • This is the best post I've read in awhile about politics in the workplace and how it ties into personal branding. My personal brand relies heavily on “WYSIWYG” or “what you see is what you get”, which I feel goes hand in hand with your Integrity bit. If I say I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it. Another part of building trustworthiness, IMHO, is also learning how to say no politely. If you don't sign up for things that you can't or know you won't do you avoid unpleasant situations that can compromise all of your hard work. 🙂

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