Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 38;   September 17, 2008: The Advantages of Political Attack: Part II

The Advantages of Political Attack: Part II

by

In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?

In the workplace, political attack differs from routine politics. Routine politics centers around issues: how we should allocate resources, or which strategies would be most effective. In routine politics, the issues themselves usually determine the places and times of political interactions. For instance, the political debates about budget allocations generally occur near the deadlines for budget decisions.

George Washington Crossing the Delaware

George Washington Crossing the Delaware. By the closing days of 1776, with the new nation not yet six months old, the War for Independence was not going well for the former colonies. Washington and his Continental Army had been driven from New York, and the British were occupying both New York and Boston. Washington had retreated west across New Jersey, and final defeat seemed so certain that he had lost much of his army to desertion. Badly in need of a victory, he decided to attack the Hessian garrison at Trenton on the day after Christmas. He chose that day because it was unexpected, and at the time, warfare during the winter season was relatively rare, though becoming less so. The timing and location offered Washington significant advantages, and they did contribute to victory, but he strengthened his plan by gathering extensive intelligence during the week prior to the attack, and by employing a tactic we now call "disinformation" to mislead the Hessians as to his designs. After taking Trenton, he pressed his position, controlling the tempo of the battle, and took Princeton. Office politics and military engagements do differ, but we can learn much from clever military tacticians. The painting is of oil on canvas, by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, American, 1816-1868. Photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Political attacks, by contrast, are timed by the attackers to secure political advantage. For instance, attacks might occur one after the other, to saturate the target's ability to respond. Or, to exploit perceived weaknesses, attackers might engage targets who are already in trouble from other sources.

Because they have the initiative, attackers have time to prepare. They can design their attacks in relative freedom. Closely spaced attacks give the attacker further advantage, because the target's responses are tightly time-constrained.

But timing is just one of the advantages of attackers. Here are some of the choices attackers have that targets do not. See "The Advantages of Political Attack: Part I," Point Lookout for September 3, 2008, for some of the more general advantages of attackers.

Timing
Sophisticated attackers choose times that work to their own advantage. For instance, the attacker might choose a time when the target is preoccupied with an important deadline, or when traveling or on vacation. Attacks on those who are ill are also possible, but they're rare, because they seem so ruthless.
Since attacks are more likely when you're under pressure, get better at managing pressure. But you can influence even these events, if you let it be known that you'll be busy at a time when you actually won't. Another example: change your previously announced vacation dates suddenly.
Venue
Political attackers have choices
that their targets do not. The
choices they make can
confer significant advantages.
The venue is the attacker's choice: a meeting, an email message, a private conversation or a confidential memo outside the target's awareness — anything is possible.
Awareness of an attack is the first step in formulating a response. Since you can't monitor all venues, rely on your network. And you needn't respond in the venue in which you're attacked. Choose a venue for your response that meets your needs; the venue of the attack was chosen for the attacker's advantage.
Prepositioned assets
Since the attacker has planned the attack and can anticipate a subsequent exchange, he or she can acquire relevant assets in advance. Assets include relationships, information, planted rumors, intelligence, analyses, projections, procedures, and much more. For instance, an attacker can study arcane policies, regulations, or technologies for use later during an exchange.
Anticipate the directions from which attacks can come. Notice whether alliances are forming, whether you're being isolated, or whether the organizational conversation is turning to topics of which you are relatively ignorant. Do what you can to limit the effectiveness of these preparations, and make preparations of your own.

Attackers have one more set of advantages: the willingness to engage. We'll look at the psychology of the attack next time. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: The Advantages of Political Attack: Part III  Next Issue

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