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Workplace Politics

Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on Workplace Politics. Bookmark this page. Or browse this archive by date. Subscribe now.

Six atoms in a Schrödinger "cat" stateComing October 8: Preventing Toxic Conflict: Part I
Conflict resolution skills are certainly useful. Even more advantageous are toxic conflict prevention skills, and skills that keep constructive conflict from turning toxic. Available here and by RSS on October 8.

Tennis players shake hands after their matchAnd on October 15: Preventing Toxic Conflict: Part II
Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble. Available here and by RSS on October 15.

Other topics:

August 27, 2014

Ross Marshall and Don Pugh at the kickoff meeting for the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) at Tinker Air Force BaseDeep Trouble and Getting Deeper
Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're pretty sure there's no way out.

August 20, 2014

A rescue puppyYou Can't Control What Other People Think
Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think? Maybe it would be. And maybe not...

August 13, 2014

Dry Falls, in Grand County, Washington StateImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part IV
Some impasses that develop in group decision-making relate to the substance of the discussion. Some are not substantive, but still present serious obstacles. What can we do about nonsubstantive impasses?

August 6, 2014

U.S. Congressman Jim Moran talks with constituents at a meeting on the federal budgetImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part III
In group decision-making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand. With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.

June 11, 2014

Nez Perce ceremonial shirtExasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly to get to the point. How can we find a balance?

May 21, 2014

An early automotive assembly line trialThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part III
Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.

May 14, 2014

The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New JerseyThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part II
Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.

May 7, 2014

A virtual meeting of a particular fancy typeThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: Part I
By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.

April 9, 2014

Rachel Hoffman, for whom Florida's Rachel's Law is namedOn Snitching at Work: Part II
Reporting violations of laws, policies, regulations, or ethics to authorities at work can expose you to the risk of retribution. That's why the reporting decision must consider the need for safety.

April 2, 2014

Elia Kazan, award winning film directorOn Snitching at Work: Part I
Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work. Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.

February 12, 2014

Nemesis by Albrecht DurerSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part III
Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor — can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated skip-level interviews.

February 5, 2014

Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part II
Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor. They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.

January 29, 2014

J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform. Photograph taken in 1916.Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: Part I
Although skip-level interviews have their place, they can be dangerous, explosive, and harmful to the organization. What are the dangers?

January 22, 2014

RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.

January 15, 2014

A Canada Goose nestingBig Egos and Other Misconceptions
We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.

December 25, 2013

Todd Park, United States Chief Technology OfficerProjects as Proxy Targets: Part II
Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins, some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.

December 18, 2013

A Strangler Fig in AustraliaProjects as Proxy Targets: Part I
Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.

November 20, 2013

Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberriesEgo Depletion: An Introduction
Ego depletion is a recently discovered phenomenon that limits our ability to regulate our own behavior. It explains such seemingly unrelated phenomena as marketing campaign effectiveness, toxic conflict contagion, and difficulty losing weight.

October 9, 2013

A10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog"Not Really Part of the Team: Part II
When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?

October 2, 2013

Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: Part I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?

September 25, 2013

The freshman class of the 2012 U.S. CongressSocial Entry Strategies: Part II
When we first engage with a group at work, we employ social entry strategies to make places for ourselves to carry out our responsibilities, and to find enjoyment and fulfillment at work. Here's Part II of a little catalog of social entry strategies.

September 18, 2013

U.S. Military Academy graduates toss their hats during commencement ceremonies at West Point, New York, May 23, 2009Social Entry Strategies: Part I
Much more than work happens in the workplace. We also engage in social behaviors, including one sometimes called social entry. We use social entry strategies to make places for ourselves in social groups at work.

August 14, 2013

Brian Urquhart of the Office of the UN Under-Secretaries Without Porfolios. (1 January 1956)Staying in Abilene
A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.

July 10, 2013

A dead Manchurian AshWorkplace Politics and Type III Errors
Most job descriptions contain few references to political effectiveness, beyond the fairly standard collaborate-to-achieve-results kinds of requirements. But because true achievement often requires political sophistication, understanding the political content of our jobs is important.

July 3, 2013

An inflatable aircraft of the U.S. Ghost Army in World War IIActive Deceptions at Work
Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.

June 26, 2013

An orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) perched on an orchidPassive Deceptions at Work
Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve camouflage are both the most common and the most difficult to detect. Here's a look at how passive camouflage can play a role in workplace deception.

June 19, 2013

Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.

June 12, 2013

Spanish Walking Stick insect (Leptynia hispanica)Pariah Professions: Part II
In some organizations entire professions are regarded as pariahs — outsiders. They're expected to perform functions that the organization does need, but their relationships with others in the organization are strained at best. When pariahdom is tolerated, organizational performance suffers.

June 5, 2013

A pariah dogPariah Professions: Part I
In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.

May 1, 2013

George Orwell's 1933 press card photo issued by the Branch of the National Union of JournalistsDevious Political Tactics: Mis- and Disinformation
Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation, disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.

March 13, 2013

Professor Brian Kelley, retired CIA officer, speaking at The Institute of World PoliticsBefore You Blow the Whistle: Part II
When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions, they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used to suppress the truth.

March 6, 2013

Dr. David Graham testifying to the Senate Finance Committee about VioxxBefore You Blow the Whistle: Part I
When organizations know that they've done something they shouldn't have, or they haven't done something they should have, they often try to conceal the bad news. When dealing with whistleblowers, they can be especially ruthless.

February 27, 2013

The breech plug of one of the nine 16-inch guns of the U.S.S. MissouriMore Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order. It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with some kinds of perceptual distortion.

February 20, 2013

William Tecumseh Sherman as a major general in May 1865On Badly Written Email
Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?

January 23, 2013

Male <i>peponapis pruinosa</i> — one of the "squash bees."Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences. Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.

January 2, 2013

Timber blowdown in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National ForestCoercion by Presupposition
Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.

December 19, 2012

Malibu beach at sunsetFailure Foreordained
Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance. But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?

November 28, 2012

Caneel with a close friend (me)Why Others Do What They Do
If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.

November 7, 2012

Platform supply vessels battle the fire that was consuming remnants of the Deepwater Horizon oilrig in April 2010Managing Non-Content Risks: Part II
When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand — content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those that relate to organizational politics.

October 31, 2012

Robert F. Scott and three of his party arrive at a tent left by Roald Amundsen near the South PoleManaging Non-Content Risks: Part I
When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets things done.

October 24, 2012

Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelFooling Ourselves
Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.

October 17, 2012

The Bill of RightsImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part II
When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic tactics.

October 10, 2012

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), seventh Vice President of the United StatesImpasses in Group Decision-Making: Part I
Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?

September 26, 2012

Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.

September 19, 2012

Mohandas GhandiNo Tangles
When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere. How does this happen?

August 29, 2012

Allied leaders at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.

August 8, 2012

Palm trees blowing in a hurricaneDealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management wants deal with it. What if management is no help?

August 1, 2012

An Africanized honeybee, also known as a killer beeRapid-Fire Attacks
Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question, or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being attacked. What can you do?

July 18, 2012

President Harry S. Truman, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, meeting at Wake Island, 14 October 1950Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.

May 2, 2012

Male Red-Winged Blackbird displaying during breeding seasonOn Noticing
What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there — can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?

April 11, 2012

Demolished vehicles line Highway 80, also known as the "Highway of Death"Reactance and Micromanagement
When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden, or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain some of the dynamics of micromanagement.

April 4, 2012

R.M.S. Lusitania coming into port, possibly in New York.Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?

March 28, 2012

Abraham Lincoln as a young man about to become a candidate for U.S. SenateWorkplace Politics and Integrity
Some see workplace politics and integrity as inherently opposed. One can participate in politics, or one can have integrity — not both. This belief is a dangerous delusion.

February 1, 2012

President George W. Bush of the United States and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi ArabiaSocial Transactions: We're Doing It My Way
We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors, and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do we decide whose preferences rule?

January 11, 2012

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo at DelphiOn Advice and Responsibility
Being asked for advice can be an affirming experience, but actually giving advice can sometimes entail risk. How can this happen, and what choices do we have?

December 21, 2011

Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, pitching on July 25, 2010When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation
When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell what to do?

October 19, 2011

Steve McInnis, the Building Commissioner of the City of North Chicago, IllinoisHow to Stop Being Overworked: Part II
Although many of us are overloaded as a result of our own choices, some are overloaded by abusive supervisors. If you find yourself in that situation, what can you do?

October 12, 2011

A member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008How to Stop Being Overworked: Part I
If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to it, or at least, lighten the load.

October 5, 2011

Folsom Dam, on the American River near Sacramento, CaliforniaHow Did I Come to Be So Overworked?
You're good at your job, but there's just too much of it, and it keeps on coming. Your boss doesn't seem to realize how much work you do. How does this happen?

September 21, 2011

Duma, a wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, rolls to capture a scent atop a moundTelephonic Deceptions: Part II
Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.

September 14, 2011

The Garden Tiger moth, Arctia cajaTelephonic Deceptions: Part I
People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.

September 7, 2011

Red Ball Express troops stack "jerry cans" used to transport gasoline to front-line units during World War II.Inappropriate Levels of Regard
The regard we have for others as people is sometimes influenced by the regard we have for the work they do. Confusing the two is a dangerous error.

August 3, 2011

Jeffrey Skilling, in a mug shot taken in 2004 by the United States Marshals ServiceKinds of Organizational Authority: the Informal
Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.

July 27, 2011

David Addington, John Yoo, and Chris Schroeder testify before the U.S. House Judiciary CommitteeKinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
A clear understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.

July 13, 2011

A sea otter and pupPower, Authority, and Influence: A Systems View
Power, Authority, and Influence are often understood as personal attributes. To fully grasp how they function in organizations, we must adopt a systems view.

June 29, 2011

Portrait of Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary WarThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy
Much of what we call work is about as effective and relevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors related to strategy.

June 22, 2011

An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter test aircraft AA-1 undergoes flight testing over Fort Worth, TexasThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration
Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors that extend task duration.

June 15, 2011

An actual deck chair recovered from the sunken liner <i>Titanic</i>The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.

June 8, 2011

A P-14 lady beetle devours a pea aphidWorkplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: Part II
Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review of some of the tools that don't work well and why.

June 1, 2011

Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingWorkplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: Part I
Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.

May 25, 2011

Flooding in Metarie, Louisiana, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources. Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.

May 18, 2011

A political cartoon from the 1840 U.S. Presidential campaignHow to Create Distrust
A trusting environment is critical to high performance. That's why it's important to recognize behaviors that erode trust in others. Here's a little catalog of methods people use — intentionally or not — to create distrust.

May 4, 2011

A U.S. Marine sniper wearing sniper camouflage gear known as a "ghillie" suitHow Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: Part II
To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more likely to work.

April 27, 2011

A captive zebra of the species Equus quagga (plains zebra)How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: Part I
Most targets of bullies just want the bullying to stop, but most bullies don't stop unless they fear for their own welfare if they continue the bullying. To end the bullying, targets must turn the tables.

April 20, 2011

A modern roller coaster showing an inverted portion of the tripHow Workplace Bullies Use OODA: Part II
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.

April 13, 2011

A mixed stand of aspen and pine in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and Washington stateHow Workplace Bullies Use OODA: Part I
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.

April 6, 2011

Col. John Boyd, U.S. Air Force, in a photo taken during his time as a fighter pilotOODA at Work
OODA is a model of decision-making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.

March 9, 2011

Muhammad Ali in 1967Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.

February 9, 2011

Aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima)How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?

February 2, 2011

Witchweed (striga hermonthica) a parasitic plantHow Pet Projects Get Resources: Abuse
Pet projects thrive in many organizations — even those that are supposedly "lean and mean." Some nurturers of pet projects abuse their authority to secure resources for their pets. How does this happen?

January 26, 2011

The Panzerkampfwagen VIII, a German World War II super-heavy tankWhy There Are Pet Projects
Pet projects are common in organizations, including organizations with healthy and mature planning processes. They usually consume resources at levels beyond what the organization intends, which raises the question of their genesis: Where do pet projects come from?

December 8, 2010

Post-War Lionel TrainsWhen It's Just Not Your Job
Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?

November 24, 2010

Firefighter lighting grass using a drip torchBeyond Our Control
When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed. We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?

November 17, 2010

The Japanese battleship <i>Yamato</i> during machinery trials 20 October 1941Durable Agreements
People at work often make agreements in which they commit to cooperate — to share resources, to assist each other, or not to harm each other. Some agreements work. Some don't. What makes agreements durable?

October 13, 2010

The Dalles of the St. Croix RiverThe Politics of the Critical Path: Part II
The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience the unique politics of the critical path.

October 6, 2010

Eggs Sardou at Lucile's: poached eggs, creamed spinach, gulf shrimp, gritsManagement Debt: Part II
As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring costs. How can we quantify management debt?

September 29, 2010

Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: Part I
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?

September 22, 2010

A section of the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston in 2008The Politics of the Critical Path: Part I
The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political environment.

September 15, 2010

Then-Capt. Elwood R. Quesada who became commanding general of the 9th Fighter Command in operation OverlordGroup Problem-Solving Tangles
When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling these threads can make discussions much more effective.

September 1, 2010

Gen. Patton and Gen. Weyland photographed at Nancy, FranceWhat Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: Part III
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, trouble looms. What role do supervisors play?

August 25, 2010

Comparison of energy consumption of compact fluorescent bulbs with incandescent bulbsWhat Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: Part II
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?

August 18, 2010

Male <i>peponapis pruinosa</i> — one of the "squash bees."What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: Part I
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?

August 4, 2010

Small cage with canary used in testing for carbon monoxide after the Hollinger Mine fire on February 10, 1928On Being the Canary
Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?

July 21, 2010

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthologyWhy Don't They Believe Me?
When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor. How does this happen?

June 30, 2010

The obverse of the U.S. quarter dollar coin issued in 2000, honoring the state of New HampsireHow to Undermine Your Boss
Ever since I wrote "How to Undermine Your Subordinates," I've received scads of requests for "How to Undermine Your Boss." Must be a lot of unhappy subordinates out there. Well, this one's for you.

June 16, 2010

A scene from the Orphan Girl Theatre's production of Antigone at the Butte Center for the Performing ArtsStalking the Elephant in the Room: Part II
When everyone is thinking something that no one dares discuss, we say that there is "an elephant in the room." Free-ranging elephants are expensive and dangerous to both the organization and its people. Here's Part II of a catalog of indicators that elephants are about.

June 9, 2010

An elephant family drinking, Samburu National Reserve KenyaStalking the Elephant in the Room: Part I
The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking, and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.

June 2, 2010

A fiddler crab, resident of the Ashepoo Combahee Edisto (ACE) Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve in South Carolina, USACommunication Traps for Virtual Teams: Part II
Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.

May 26, 2010

Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and an early pioneer in the field of Public RelationsCommunication Traps for Virtual Teams: Part I
Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges do they face, and what can we do about them?

May 19, 2010

President Harry S. Truman, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, meeting at Wake Island, 14 October 1950The Perils of Political Praise
Political Praise is any public statement, praising (most often) an individual, and including a characterization of the individual or the individual's deeds, and which spins or distorts in such a way that it advances the praiser's own political agenda, possibly at the expense of the one praised.

May 12, 2010

A Hug-Free Zone posterUnwanted Hugs from Strangers
Some of us have roles at work that expose us to unwanted hugs from people we don't know. After a while, this experience can be far worse than merely annoying. How can we deal with unwanted hugs from strangers?

April 21, 2010

A section of the walls of Conwy Castle showing a battered plinthHow to Undermine Your Subordinates
People write to me occasionally that their bosses undermine them, but I know there are bosses who want to do more undermining than they are already doing. So here are some tips for bosses aspiring to sink even lower.

March 31, 2010

A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed HawkBiological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying
When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.

March 10, 2010

Admiral Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans, first Baron Mountevans of ChelseaGuidelines for Delegation
Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.

March 3, 2010

George III, King of Great Britain and King of Ireland, 1738-1820What Is Workplace Bullying?
We're gradually becoming aware that workplace bullying is a significant deviant pattern in workplace relationships. To deal effectively with it, we must know how to recognize it. Here's a start.

February 24, 2010

The Gatun Locks of the Panama CanalThe Power of Situational Momentum
For many of us, the typical workday presents a series of opportunities to take action. We often approach these situations by choosing among the expected choices. But usually there are choices that exploit situational momentum, and they can be powerful choices indeed.

February 17, 2010

USS Indianapolis' last Commanding Officer, Captain Charles B. McVay, IIIThe Politics of Lessons Learned
Many organizations gather lessons learned — or at least, they believe they do. Mastering the political subtleties of lessons learned efforts enhances results.

February 10, 2010

Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin)Confronting the Workplace Bully: Part II
When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.

February 3, 2010

The U.S. Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, ConnecticutConfronting the Workplace Bully: Part I
When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.

January 27, 2010

President Barack Obama with Stevie WonderWhat You See Isn't Always What You Get
We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your interpretation has outrun what you actually know.

January 20, 2010

A group of Emperor PenguinsWhat Do You Need?
When working issues jointly with others, especially with one other, we sometimes hear, "What do you need to make this work?" Your answers can doom your effort — or make it a smashing success.

January 13, 2010

A view of Hut Point, in Anarctica, base of the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) of Robert. F. ScottCovert Bullying
The workplace bully is a tragically familiar figure to many. Bullying is costly to organizations, and painful to everyone within them — especially targets. But the situation is worse than many realize, because much bullying is covert. Here are some of the methods of covert bullies.

December 23, 2009

Elephant Island, where Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew were marooned in 1916How to Avoid Responsibility
Taking responsibility and a willingness to be held accountable are the hallmarks of either a rising star in a high-performance organization, or a naïve fool in a low-performance organization. Either way, you must know the more popular techniques for avoiding responsibility.

December 16, 2009

Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1846, in a charcoal portrait by artist Eastman JohnsonA Critique of Criticism: Part II
To make things better, we criticize, but we often miss the mark. We inflict pain without meaning to, and some of that pain comes back to us. How can we get better outcomes, while reducing the risks of inflicting pain?

December 9, 2009

Polonius's Charge to Laertes, color wood engraving by Bernard Brussel-Smith (1914-1989)A Critique of Criticism: Part I
Whether we call it "criticism" or "feedback," the receiver can sometimes experience pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?

December 2, 2009

Representative Sam Graves, Republican of MissouriOn the Appearance of Impropriety
Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean, what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?

October 28, 2009

A view of the damage to the Apollo 13 Service ModuleThe Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.

October 21, 2009

Lion, ready to spring, in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times, it's especially important to distinguish between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political opportunities.

August 26, 2009

President George W. Bush and President Vladimir PutinI've Got Your Number, Pal
Recent research has uncovered a human tendency — possibly universal — to believe that we know others better than others know them, and that we know ourselves better than others know themselves. These beliefs, rarely acknowledged and often wrong, are at the root of many a toxic conflict of long standing.

August 19, 2009

Harry Morgan and Henry Fonda in "The Ox-Bow Incident"False Consensus
Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace, but that trouble is often avoidable.

May 20, 2009

Linda Tripp, a central figure in the impeachment of President ClintonPumpers
In workplace politics, some people always seem to be seeking information about others, but they give very little in return. They're pumpers. What can you do to deal with pumpers?

May 6, 2009

1988 Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman celebrating his eightieth birthdayPolitical Framing: Strategies
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some strategies framers use.

April 29, 2009

Theatrical poster for the 1944 film Double IndemnityPolitical Framing: Communications
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.

February 11, 2009

A collared lizardHow to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation
These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for positioning yourself in the organization to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.

October 29, 2008

A bristlecone pine in the Great Basin National ParkExtrasensory Deception: Part II
In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.

October 22, 2008

Washington Irving, American author, 1783-1859Extrasensory Deception: Part I
Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong, or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.

October 15, 2008

Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. EisenhowerWhen You're the Least of the Best: Part II
Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.

October 8, 2008

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Stephen G. BreyerWhen You're the Least of the Best: Part I
The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced. For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.

September 24, 2008

A New England stone wallThe Advantages of Political Attack: Part III
In workplace politics, attackers have significant advantages that explain, in part, their surprising success rate. In this third part of our series on political attacks, we examine the psychological advantages of attackers.

September 17, 2008

George Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Advantages of Political Attack: Part II
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?

September 10, 2008

Damage to Purple Loosestrife due to feeding by the galerucella beetleLateral Micromanagement
Lateral micromanagement is the unwelcome intrusion by one co-worker into the responsibilities of another. Far more than run-of-the-mill bossiness, it's often a concerted attempt to gain organizational power and rank, and it is toxic to teams.

September 3, 2008

HMS Latimer during her first cable-laying run from Shanklin to CherbourgThe Advantages of Political Attack: Part I
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?

August 27, 2008

A section of stone wall at Pueblo BonitoStonewalling: Part II
Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction. Some less sophisticated tactics rely on misrepresentation to gum up the works. Those that employ bureaucratic methods are more devious. What can you do about stonewalling?

August 20, 2008

A lizardfish in a typical poseStonewalling: Part I
Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction used by those who wish to stall the forward progress of some effort. Whether the effort is a rival project, an investigation, or just the work of a colleague, the stonewaller hopes to gain advantage. What can you do about stonewalling?

August 13, 2008

Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchConflicts of Interest in Reporting
Reporting is the process that informs us about how things are going in the organization and its efforts. Unfortunately, the people who do the reporting often have a conflict of interest that leads to misleading and unreliable reports.

August 6, 2008

President Richard Nixon resignsProjection Errors at Work
Often, at work, we make interpretations of the behavior of others. Sometimes we base these interpretations not on actual facts, but on our perceptions of facts. And our perceptions are sometimes erroneous.

July 30, 2008

Professor John Walker Gregory and Sir Clements MarkhamObstructionist Tactics: Part II
Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics.

July 23, 2008

President Richard Nixon resignsObstructionist Tactics: Part I
Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics do obstructors use?

July 9, 2008

A field of Cereal RyeApproval Ploys
If you approve or evaluate proposals or requests made by others, you've probably noticed patterns approval seekers use to enhance their success rates. Here are some tactics approval seekers use.

May 28, 2008

Damage to the Interstate 10 Twin Bridge across Lake PontchartrainManaging Risk Revision
Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen. But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.

May 14, 2008

A gray wolf. Animosity between wolves helps ensure balance.Animosity Patterns
Animosity between two people at work is often attributed to "personality clashes." While sometimes people can't get along, animosity can also be a tool for accomplishing strictly political ends. Here's a short catalog of some of its uses.

April 23, 2008

"Taking an observation at the pole."The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential conflicts of interest.

April 16, 2008

The Lincoln Memorial at sunriseOrganizational Loss: Searching Behavior
When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational loss.

March 12, 2008

A polar bear, feeding, on landResponding to Threats: Part III
Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.

February 27, 2008

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)Responding to Threats: Part II
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.

February 20, 2008

A straw-bale houseResponding to Threats: Part I
Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.

November 7, 2007

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin PowellDevious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends. Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage. Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.

October 24, 2007

Mustang stallions fightingWorst Practices
We hear a lot about best practices, but hardly anybody talks about worst practices. So as a public service, here are some of the best worst practices.

August 29, 2007

Mars as seen by the Hubble TelescopeMore Indicators of Scopemonging
Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.

August 22, 2007

The spine of a human maleScopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional
Scope creep is the tendency of some projects to expand their goals. Usually, we think of scope creep as an unintended consequence of a series of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's much more than that.

August 8, 2007

A hug about to happenUnwelcome Workplace Hugs
Some of us are uncomfortable about workplace hugs, and some want to be selective. Sometimes hugs are simply inappropriate. Here are some tips for dealing with unwelcome workplace hugs.

August 1, 2007

Bush and Putin hugAbout Workplace Hugs
In the past twenty years in the United States, we've changed from a relatively hug-free workplace culture to one that, in some quarters, seems to be experiencing a hugging tsunami. Knowing how to deal with hugging is now a valuable skill.

July 25, 2007

A cup of coffeeMy Boss Gabs Too Much
Your boss has popped into your office for another morning gab session. Normally, it's irritating, but today you have a tight deadline, so you're royally ticked. What can you do?

July 18, 2007

The USS Doyle as DMS-34, when she played The CaineReverse Micromanagement
Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action isn't always helpful, especially when some of the causes of reverse micromanagement are organizational.

July 11, 2007

A horseEthical Influence: Part II
When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?

July 4, 2007

The Bill of RightsEthical Influence: Part I
Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.

June 20, 2007

The Declaration of IndependenceMore Stuff and Nonsense
Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture. These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help. Here are some examples.

June 13, 2007

An old-fashioned punch clock, still in wide useThings We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.

June 6, 2007

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill on the portico of the Soviet Embassy at the Teheran ConferenceHostile Collaborations
Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness, and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations, and how can we do them well?

May 30, 2007

The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, CaliforniaSnares at Work
Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how to deal with them.

April 4, 2007

Doodles by T.D. Lee, created while working with C.N. YangDismissive Gestures: Part III
Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.

March 28, 2007

Humans aren't the only species that communicates by facial expressionsDismissive Gestures: Part II
In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.

March 21, 2007

Gen. George Casey, Dep. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz, and Sec. Donald RumsfeldDismissive Gestures: Part I
Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated, we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a catalog of non-verbal insults.

March 7, 2007

Captain William BlighHow to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager
By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.

December 27, 2006

One of the Franklin Milestones on the Boston Post RoadManaging Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.

December 20, 2006

Freeway damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta, California, EarthquakeManaging Pressure: The Unexpected
When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure.

December 13, 2006

The 1991 eruption of Mount PinatuboManaging Pressure: Communications and Expectations
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.

December 6, 2006

Lion, ready to spring, in Samburu National Reserve, KenyaUsing Indirectness at Work
Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore well-being and comity within the organization.

November 15, 2006

A 1940s-era trap fishing boatNasty Questions: Part II
In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information. Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.

November 8, 2006

The game of chess, a strategic metaphorNasty Questions: Part I
Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather, they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.

October 4, 2006

The Fram, Amundsen's shipBreaking the Rules
Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?

September 20, 2006

Seafood stewWhen You Think Your Boss Is Incompetent
After the boss commits even a few enormous blunders, some of us conclude that he or she is just incompetent. We begin to worry whether our careers are safe, whether the company is safe, or whether to start looking for another job. Beyond worrying, what else can we do?

September 13, 2006

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of GhanaHow to Get a Promotion in Line
If you want a promotion in line — a promotion to the next supervisory level in your organization — what should you do now to make it come about? What risks are there?

August 23, 2006

A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.

August 16, 2006

The 171st graduating class of the Massachusetts Firefighting AcademyHow to Get a Promotion: the Inside Stuff
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us are, but are you doing all you can to make it happen? Start with a focus on you.

July 5, 2006

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.

June 21, 2006

A Julius Caesar coinOn Organizational Coups d'Etat
If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.

June 14, 2006

Balancing on a knife edgeKnife-Edge Performers
Some employees deliver performance episodically, while some deliver steady, but barely adequate performance. Either way, they keep their managers drained and anxious, on the "knife edge" of terminating them. How can you detect knife-edge performers, and what can you do about them?

April 26, 2006

Hiding from the truthThe High Cost of Low Trust: Part II
Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.

April 19, 2006

Acrobatics requires trustThe High Cost of Low Trust: Part I
We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.

February 8, 2006

A toolboxTen Tactics for Tough Times: Part II
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 II of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.

February 1, 2006

Reminding yourself of what to doTen 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.

December 21, 2005

Blaming and being blamedIs It Blame or Is It Accountability?
When we seek those accountable for a particular failure, we risk blaming them instead, because many of us confuse accountability with blame. What's the difference between them? How can we keep blame at bay?

November 9, 2005

A buffalo stampedeEmpire 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?

November 2, 2005

Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.

August 31, 2005

Benjamin FranklinPractice Positive Politics
Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.

July 20, 2005

The Great WallDevious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of these tactics.

July 6, 2005

The Roman ColiseumDevious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate you to find another way.

June 15, 2005

A harrow in actionWhen Others Curry Favor
When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse. Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?

June 8, 2005

ApplesCurrying Favor
The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though — it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?

February 16, 2005

A headsman with a double-bladed-axeTop 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?

October 20, 2004

Two orcas fightingWhen Leaders Fight
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?

October 6, 2004

Patterns of ConversationPatterns of Everyday Conversation
Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.

September 29, 2004

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?

January 7, 2004

Taking a measurementThere Are No Micromanagers
If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're doing isn't working. There is another way.

November 26, 2003

FearWhen Power Attends the Meeting
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.

October 29, 2003

A young managerDealing with Org Chart Age Inversions
What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable reaction to org chart age inversions?

October 22, 2003

A plopPlopping
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?

October 15, 2003

Three-legged racing teamDevious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?

October 1, 2003

A rhinestone ringDevious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity
Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.

September 24, 2003

A credit thiefDevious Political Tactics: Credit Appropriation
Managers and supervisors who take credit for the work of subordinates or others who feel powerless are using a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. It's the mark of the unsophisticated political operator.

August 15, 2001

A variety of fruit choicesWhen All Your Options Are Bad
When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines to finding your way to a good outcome.

June 20, 2001

Illegal dumpingIllegal Dumping
To solve problems, we change existing policies or processes, or we create new ones. We try to make things better and sometimes we actually succeed. More often, we create new problems — typically, for someone else.

March 7, 2001

Game ballsWorkplace Politics Is Not a Game
We often think about "playing the game" — either with relish or repugnance. Whatever your level of skill or interest, you'll do better if you see workplace politics as it is. It is not a game.

February 28, 2001

CornThe "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?

January 3, 2001

A soldierDon't Staff the Ammo Dump
"Staffing the ammo dump" is the job of retrieving ammunition for someone else to use in a political attack on a third party. It's a dangerous role.

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Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
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