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My boss gave each analyst under him a bottle of wine as Xmas gift last year, but none of us gave any gift to him in return (And we are not supposed to, according to company policy). This is just the opposite of what I have seen in China.
Of course politics will be present at any place where hierachy and cooperation is needed. "Loyalty" is a big deal to many managers, in spite of all those teamwork talk. I find in many cases people don't challenge authorities even if they believe they know better. On the other hand, corporate ladder climbers pay a lot of attention in managing their "exposure", i.e. impress the right person. There is some hypocrisy in that, but I guess just like politics in a democracy, it's a necessary evil. Many immigrants find it less political here, this is true to a certain extent. The hidden truth is most of us are not in the "Major League" yet, so the power stuggle is invisible to us.
That being said, I agree office politics here is much less rampant than in China. At my level, what office politics means to me is: make my boss look good (finish assignments on time, no last minute "surprise", show some initiative that will catch the attention of his boss, and make sure he is involved in that;) If my colleagues need some help, I will try to help them out, even if this means put in some overtime on my part; if someone helps me, thank him/her verbally or by e-mail, cc his boss. Give credit to others when they deserve it, any people will give you back when you deserve it. I never compliment my boss just for the sake of it. I am not big on having monthly or even weekly one-on-one review with my boss, though formal feedback works for some of my colleagues. If there are some issues, I prefer to talk about it right away, or the next day. Try not to see things in a "political" way as we understand it in China. If we try to play with it before we fully understand the rules here, we might hurt ourselves. Just be a open and friendly person. The rest will take care of itself. Building rapport with colleague is another issue. It depends on how much socializing you need and feel comfortable with.
An earlier post was asking about brown nosing, a.k.a.PMP. This is a much lower form of politics, if it is at all. My observation is it doesn't work, and it will probably backfire.
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