If you put your best foot forward only to have it stomped on by the charmer down the hall, it’s time to brush up on office politics — with a little help from Kathleen Kelley Reardon, PhD, author of It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency/Random House).

What skills are necessary to win at office politics?

Learning to observe. Make a science of observing people who do well in your organization. Look for contradictions between what’s supposedly going on and what actually is. Train yourself to generate options when confronted by a problem. By staying on your toes, you keep others off balance. When in doubt about anything, ask some questions.

After firmly inserting foot in mouth at a meeting with your boss, what’s the best first step toward repairing relations?
Send a brief memo describing what you actually meant to say. While you don’t want to overdo the apology, it’s better to acknowledge your mistake than to leave the impression that you didn’t even notice it. Everyone makes mistakes. It takes class to own up to them.

What three actions top your list for the worst moves to make politically?
Trusting your assumptions. Being predictable. Winning at all costs.