Ivan Belis is an independent software consultant from Antwerp, Belgium. During his interview as a featured member of TechRepublic, Belis offered five strategies to avoid the entanglements of office politics while still getting your job done.

If you’re a consultant hoping to avoid becoming ensnared in your clients’ workplace woes, follow these five basic strategies.

Strategy one: Listen, but do not complain.
Don’t let constant complainers drag you down with them. “In every company, you will find individuals who are always complaining,” Belis said. “The trick is to give them a listening ear but not to let them dominate the group.”

Belis advised that it is important to listen to the complainers because often they are the ones most attuned to what’s happening beneath your consultant’s radar. You’ll often gain valuable insight into the inner workings of a department or company structure based on complainers’ laments. “Besides that,” he said, “many of their complaints are valid ones.”

But it’s important to maintain a healthy distance by listening—and listening only. If you begin to complain yourself, you’ll be mired in the office politics and unable to remain objective. Belis suggests the sage advice, “If you can’t say something nice, then you better say nothing at all.”

Strategy two: Do not choose sides.
It’s possible to become so enmeshed while learning the ins and outs of a company’s woes that you forget your role as problem solver. When that happens, you may find yourself having sympathy for one faction or another on the office battlefield. But Belis warns, “Be nice to everyone; do not choose sides.”

“Sure, sometimes I get tangled in the office politics,” he admitted. “For example, I was a member of a group that had to define coding standards for the company, typically a topic that can raise a lot of hot discussions. Being an ‘external’ member of this group helped me in moderating these discussions and coming to some sort of compromise.”

Belis said that although several people pressured him to think their way, he maintained his impartial attitude and helped them find the middle ground.

Strategy three: Stay in contact with colleagues at other firms.
To maintain your outsider’s perspective, it’s important to stay in contact with your colleagues working in other firms or businesses. “Give them a call every now and them,” Belis said. “They will keep you informed about the problems of other companies.”

This is especially important if the aforementioned complainers’ laments are bringing you down. “It will help you realize that the grass is not greener on the other side,” Belis explained.

Strategy four: Don’t mix business with pleasure—or drinking.
Many companies’ arrange social events as an employee perk, and often coworkers gather regularly to have a drink and mingle after hours. Belis advises that these events can often turn into a haven for unproductive, negative chatter.

“Have a social life outside the company,” Belis said. “Usually after some drinks, they all start talking—or complaining—about the problems at the office. Sure, you must socialize in the company, but not too much.”

Strategy five: If all else fails, remove yourself from the situation.
Although it seems drastic, Belis said that it is sometimes necessary to remove yourself from a negative situation—especially if you think there’s no way for things to improve. He explained that he speaks from experience.

“No sense in waiting until things get better, they usually don’t,” he said. “I have made this mistake in the past where I spent many years at the same company. The management always made promises, but in the end nothing changed. At the time, I did not realize how much my job satisfaction is related to my personal happiness. When I finally did make the step to change jobs, it was a big relief.”
Have you come up with methods of avoiding political entanglements on the job? How do you sidestep the company gossip or the constant complainer? Have unsolicited complaints ever alerted you to an unforeseen problem? Send us an e-mail, and tell us how you maintain your impartiality, or post your comments below.