Have you ever wondered if playing the game of office politics is necessary to be successful? I will give you the short answer: It is!

Without knowing the rules and how to play the game, you will be sitting on the sidelines while that loud mouth sitting across from you gets rewarded.

Forget about the employee handbook.

It's what goes on behind the scenes that really matters. The invisible rules at work are the ones that separate the winners from the whiners.

Look, we learned the political game when we were still toddlers. You knew instinctively who to win over to get the extra candy, or to stay up late. You learned the rules and played the game.

We all took on roles that went with the rules, without even knowing it: the smart one, the athletic one, the problem one, the clumsy one, the pretty one, the crabby one. Which one were you?

Playing politics at home and then at work is a biological reality. The social dynamics of how we interact with each other is at the core of emotional intelligence. The next step is pattern intelligence. How to decipher patterns of communication, conflict resolution, rewards and punishment.

Knowing the rules of this unwritten, invisible world will help you gain recognition to get a promotion. If you watch, the patterns will emerge.

Don't reject the idea of playing the game because some people play dirty. You can get what you want ethically and professionally. Just learn the rules of your specific organization and your specific team. You can avoid the pitfalls that cause career missteps.

Here are some basic pointers:

  • Find the gatekeepers: Keep your eyes and ears open to find the real people of influence. Often, just like any game, you need to connect with the person who shuffles the cards. That may be the one who manages the calendar and decides who gets priority with the boss. It may be someone who drives the carpool to work. It may, believe it or not, be someone who caters the fun Friday lunches from the restaurant down the road.
  • Listen at the coffee maker: Gossip is not a bad thing. It is hardwired into us for safety and survival. Tidbits of information can lead you to the right person to get all the facts that you may well need for your next career move. So, get your coffee and keep your ears open.
  • Know when to shut up: Tom Cruise is the perfect example of foot in mouth disease in the film "Jerry Maguire." This oldie but goodie shows the power of knowing when and how to speak your piece. His inability to read the rule book about the right time and place earned him an invitation to leave the company.
  • Build strategic alliances: it's not about numbers, and it's not about Facebook likes; it's about gathering your own board of directors who will keep you informed and who can introduce you to the people you need and want to know. Think quality and diversity.
  • Trust your instincts: Learn what pushes your buttons and what to do about it. You will stand out as a leader. People will turn to you and away from the pleasers, clowns and jerks at work. Not sure of yourself? Get a coach to help make the invisible visible.

Navigating office politics means getting comfortable with ambiguity, alliances, and authenticity. With practice you can decipher what is often unspeakable and decide the right course of action. Telling the truth without spilling your guts is the sign of a leader who has mastered this rocky road on the way to success.