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

The Advantages of Political Attack: 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

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