A KEEN sense of office politics can have a dramatic effect on your business and career. People often complain about office politics, claiming that they just want to do their jobs well.

Let me share a time-saving technique: Don't waste time lamenting about the horrible politics in your firm, company or association. There is no gathering of three or more persons that is free of politics.

It is necessary to separate your skills as a professional from that needed to compete politically. Political skill requires an awareness of how the organisation operates and who operates it, the unwritten policies as well as the written rules.

Office politics has taken a rap from people who don't get the plums. No one complains about politics if he has been the beneficiary of some savvy actions.

Some people sincerely believe that if they change jobs or firms, the politics will go away and they will live happily ever after. It isn't true of marriages; why should it be true of work? The change that ultimately will be of value is that of practical, political awareness.

There are drawbacks to your career if you don't have political savvy. You may be perceived as:

* Lacking career-management skills

* Being unpromotable

* Being a loner, rather than a team player

* Lacking in common sense, which has been used to describe logic, practicality, savvy, and know-how, and

* Untrustworthy of confidences and critical information.

To increase your savvy quotient, here are some strategies you can implement.

* Observe your colleagues, subordinates and supervisors. Who eats with whom? Which colleagues work out together or commute together?

* Read the body language of your co-workers as names and assignments are mentioned.

* Listen to conversations in staff rooms, at clients' and even in the washrooms.

The good old office grapevine has received a tremendous amount of bad press, some of which is unwarranted. If used properly, it can be a powerful career aid. It can provide you with a great deal of useful information, including rumours, many of which become fact.

For those of us who consider such informal communications to be gossip, for which hard-working professionals do not have time, consider this:

* Information is not necessarily personal gossip. Probably 80 per cent of it is business-related office politics.

* Gossip can be an intentional leak by top management of information you should know.

* Conveying a superior attitude about the grapevine could eliminate your sources of information.

* Smart people make time to manage their careers. Cultivating sources of information makes sense.

The grapevine may forecast events through leaks to provide news of the future, which the politically savvy can take advantage of. For example, you may overhear that your firm is developing a marketing strategy designed to attract engineering and architectural firms.

Therefore, you attend several functions of those professional associations, start connecting and develop a network of potential clients.

The market plan is presented, and you have already nurtured leads that turn into major accounts. You get a percentage and a promotion. Sounds unlikely? It has happened to an acquaintance with a major accounting firm in San Francisco.

We are in an information society. Spurning informal information is naive. Rather, you should seek access to this information.

There are, however, two cautions to heed when operating within the grapevine: Listen actively and don't add grist to the rumour mill - it could come back to haunt you. Everyone knows who has formal power, since positions and titles are obvious. However, the politically savvy are also keenly aware of who has informal power.

How do they determine this? They observe at the office, at meetings and at office parties. They notice colleagues who laugh together, lunch together, jog or commute together. They observe facial expressions and body language. They listen to people to discover their values, goals and lifestyles. They learn people's interests, such as who sails, runs, plays golf, sings or makes furniture.

If you do not want to be left behind, you have to cultivate the grapevine. Ways in which you can do it are:

* Determine who has access to relevant, powerful sources of information.

* Trade information when it is required.

* Don't fan the flames of gossip with your opinions.

* Observe co-workers and those with whom they interact or socialise.

* Buy lunch or dinner for those who are prime grapevine sources.

* Recognise that members of professional associations may have information about your firm or company.

* The grapevine now has its own web - become a web-savvy networker.

* Don't send e-mail that may return to haunt you.

* Be aware!

The grapevine has biblical and historical roots, and is here to stay. Instead of wasting valuable time cursing or questioning the grapevine, cultivate it!