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Don’t Play Politics ‒ Navigate Around Them ‒ How To Crush The Corporate Politics Game

Written by: Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


My corporate career felt a lot like a prison for most of my climb. A prison of do-it-this-way, act-like-that, dress to impress and never let them see you sweat. It felt like I could not be myself.

The crazy thing is, I was very successful by most people’s definitions. I had climbed the ladder, earned the raises, and won the favor of many of my company’s influencers. I had figured out the system. I knew how to play the game. This is what they meant by learning to play politics, right?!

That’s what I thought. Until I got fed up with all the politics. I got tired of trying to fit in. The line gets blurry. How far are you going to bend to make the job work? How much are you willing to compromise? I was in a constant battle with myself. At what point do I rise up for what I want even when I know someone’s not going to like it? When is it ok to disagree with the boss? When should I hold my jerk coworker accountable for his insensitivity? When can I insert my own ideas without pissing someone off?

These are the quiet battles playing out every day in the corporate world. It’s subtle defiance against the patterns we’ve learned. We are conditioned to create harmony from a very early age. We are taught to share our toys and play nice even when we don’t want to. We are rewarded for playing along and punished when we don’t. This is powerful conditioning to overcome.

You don’t need to play politics; you need to learn how to navigate around them. Notice the slight difference. When you play the game, someone else makes the rules. When you navigate, you get to decide your every turn. You are in charge.

The game of politics is about opinions and perceptions. Navigating politics is about not letting opinions and perceptions hold you back. Ironically when you learn to navigate politics you earn credibility faster because you get shit done and everyone knows where you stand. People respect that.

So how do we learn to navigate?

Well, it starts with you. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that learning how to succeed in leadership is about professional skill development. In truth, it’s more of a personal journey than you realize. The skills are table stakes. Climbing the ladder to become an amazing leader and do big things takes personal strength.

Start with these steps to learn how to navigate politics and stop playing the game.

Build the courage to NOT care so much.

I know this is easier said than done, but it is the key to getting what you want from life. A lot of times people mistake this statement for callousness or selfishness. That’s not at all what we are talking about here. This isn’t about not caring for others or not caring about what happens to people in your life. It’s about separating your desires from what others think about your desires.

Too often we make decisions based on what we fear others will think. That’s why we try to fit in. That’s why we play along. So, what if you didn’t let those fears of what others think to guide you? What if you could separate those emotions? You could make choices from a much clearer point of view.

When you play politics, you are submitting to others’ opinions. When you navigate politics, you are guiding others’ opinions.

To help you get in this mode, ask yourself what choices you would make if it was just you in your head. How would you handle this situation if you didn’t worry so much? Not sure what’s at the bottom of your worry?

Complete this sentence: I would have the thing I desire except _______. Whatever you wrote down to fill that blank…that’s the thing that’s holding you back. That’s the belief you have that’s limiting your future.

So, change that belief. Tell yourself what you want is possible. Tell yourself that everything will work out. The more you lean into those possibilities and the less you care what others think, the more you’ll grow your career.

I know this sounds a little crazy but look at every successful person you know. What’s one thing they have in common? They follow their passions despite having people tell them they are not reasonable. They do it anyway.

Still not convinced? These next steps will help you get closer.

Separate what you want from what others want from you.

You must understand what you really want for yourself vs. what you want because it’s conditioned in you to make others happy. Give this some thought. If asked why you want XYZ you might say it’s because it’s the right thing to do or because that’s just your job, but is it really? Most of the time your first response will be a conditioned response.

Ask yourself who benefits from this? What if I don’t do this thing, who would be upset? Why would they be upset? If you have to work at mustering up enthusiasm for this thing, it’s probably not what you really want, but what you think you are supposed to want. Separate the two and discard those that aren’t yours.

Get in tune with why you want the things you want.

Now that you’ve narrowed down your desires to the ones that are truly yours it’s time to explore the real reasons behind them. This step isn’t about justifying your desires as much as it is about gauging your passion behind each. It will help you decide what’s most important to you and prioritize your choices.

Ask yourself why do I want this thing? What will change for me when I have what I want? How will my job/life be better? Who else will benefit when I reach this goal?

You’ll start to feel your goals in a deeper way. And that’s important because you are going to need that resolve when things get hard. You are going to face adversity and challenge. That’s why you need to stay grounded to the reasons you are striving toward this goal in the first place.

Make deliberate choices not fear-based decisions.

When you are clear about what you want and why you want it, decisions get easier. You’ll find it more natural to make deliberate choices that move you toward your goals. Ask yourself with each decision, how does this help me move closer to my goal or how does this keep me where I’m at? Feel for the inspiration behind your choice and take action from that place of passion.

If your primary emotion behind this is fear or lack, go back a couple of steps and fortify why you want this thing before you move forward.

Taking inspired (not fear-based) action is the stuff that leaders are made of. You’re not going to please everyone. Your decisions will come into question. Sometimes you’ll change your mind and make a different decision later. All of that’s ok in the big scheme of things as long as you’re taking inspired action, you’ll move closer to your goal every day.


There will always be corporate politics to deal with. When you succumb to playing politics, you are in a no-win game. When you learn how to stand strong in your own wants and navigate politics, you’ll take your career further than you ever thought possible. AND you’ll do the work that matters to you. That’s a win-win situation.

So as difficult as it seems, keep working on yourself. Keep striving for what you really want. Your dreams are never too big. And when you’re sick of the game? Stop playing and do the work to be able to navigate like a pro. You’ve got this!

Nicky Espinosa is the founder of RISE UP Women’s Leadership Network, providing support, training and mentorship for women leaders. Join our FREE online community at

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Nicky Espinosa, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Nicky Espinosa is a leadership expert and executive coach specializing in supporting women executives to reach their full potential. She is a former healthcare executive, author and professional speaker with 20+ years of senior leadership experience. She is on a mission to close the gender gap in the C-suite by empowering women to confidently level the playing field.



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