Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 36;   September 3, 2008: The Advantages of Political Attack: Part I

The Advantages of Political Attack: Part I

by

In workplace politics, attackers sometimes prevail even when the attacks are specious, and even when the attacker's job performance is substandard. Why are attacks so effective, and how can targets respond effectively?

Toxic political environments are unhealthy places to work. If you find yourself in one, consider moving on. If you do decide to stay, you'd best learn how to survive there. One set of required skills is the ability to understand, repel, and thrive on political attacks.

HMS Latimer during her first cable-laying run from Shanklin to Cherbourg

HMS Latimer during her first cable-laying run from Shanklin to Cherbourg, August 10, 1944, in support of Operation PLUTO (Pipe-Line Under The Ocean). Allied operations after the Normandy landings required over a million gallons of gasoline each day, all of it delivered through the beachhead. As early as 1942, the Allies recognized that tanker delivery would probably be unsafe. Instead, they constructed pipelines across the English channel, using flexible pipe unspooled like undersea cable from vessels like the Latimer and others.

PLUTO is an outstanding example of the advantage that planning confers on the attacker. The defenders assumed that fuel would be delivered by conventional means, and although they were unprepared to disrupt even a conventional delivery system, PLUTO was beyond anything they imagined. In workplace politics, attackers can use the quiet time prior to the attack to plan actions to which the target cannot develop effective responses in the time available. Photo courtesy Isle of Wight.

A political attack differs from other challenges in its intent, which is usually disruption of the target's career. It can come in many forms, including criticism, innuendo, rumor, budget cuts, termination, resource appropriation, and character assassination.

Since political attacks are so often based on lies or unsubstantiated allegations, a natural question arises: Why are they so often successful? The answer, I believe, lies in the nature of Attack itself. Attack confers advantages upon attackers, independent of the particular tools used.

Here's Part I of a survey of the attributes of attack that make it so effective, emphasizing the general properties of attacks.

Planning
Because the attacker knows about the attack in advance, attack planning is almost certainly part of the attacker's approach. Because the target usually prefers to attend to business rather than politics, targets tend not to plan their responses to political attacks. Sadly, planned actions are usually more effective than unplanned actions.
You might not relish politics, but if you've decided to remain in a politically toxic environment, you'll be engaging in attack/response exchanges. Have plans. Study potential attackers. Know how they operate: their assets and their weaknesses.
Use of surprise
Surprise is almost inherent in a first attack; it's almost precluded in a response to an attack. Surprise confers advantage because it usually creates disorientation in the target, and disorientation leads to an uncoordinated and ineffective response.
It's tempting to just stick to your job, and ignore the possibility of attack. But if you suspect a political attack might come, prepare for it. Find ways to limit the disorientation that usually results from a surprise attack. Determine where you're vulnerable, where and when the attack might occur, and prepare to respond if attacked.
Control of tempo
It's tempting to just
stick to your job, and ignore
the possibility of attack, but
you'll do better if you prepare
The tempo of an exchange is its characteristic rhythm — the rough periodicity of attack and response. The attacker who sets the tempo can keep the target off balance. While the target is absorbing one attack, and formulating or executing a response, the sophisticated attacker launches yet another attack, thus preventing effective response to the first. Repeating this pattern, the advantage of the attacker steadily grows, while the target sinks ever deeper into the mire.
Once attacked, effective response must accomplish two things. You must respond to the attack, and you must counterattack, at a time and in a venue for which the attacker is ill prepared. Seizing the initiative and controlling the tempo are critical to survival.

In Part II, we'll examine how attackers choose attacks for their own advantage. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Lateral Micromanagement  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenYWCrJynyDKQeHgdLner@ChacywUzGSxXwlLvpTGVoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Beatty Pennsylvania broad axTop Ten Signs of a Blaming Culture
The quality of an organization's culture is the key to high performance. An organization with a blaming culture can't perform at a high level, because its people can't take reasonable risks. How can you tell whether you work in a blaming culture?
Bison on the U.S. National Bison Range in MontanaEmpire Building
Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate through or around them?
Problem solving often requires collaborationTen Tactics for Tough Times: Part I
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
The Apollo 17 Lunar Rover, showing its damaged fenderAre You a Fender?
Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you carry all of it yourself.
The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeBottlenecks: Part I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenbATqtDXHdwvHjZPoner@ChacrcbcTTTgthppLVzGoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.