Jordan peeked into Stephanie's office, and felt relief when he saw that she was in, sitting as usual with her feet up on her desk, talking into her headset. She waved him in and pointed to a chair. He sat.
As he waited, Stephanie smiled at him, then rolled her eyes as she wagged her head back and forth, indicating with her usual good humor that the person at the other end of the phone was droning on, and that she had to wait for it to end. Mercifully, it ended after only a minute, and she clicked off. Pulling off her headset, she punched "Do Not Disturb" on the phone. Jordan got up, closed the door, and sat down again. It was becoming their routine.
Stephanie took a pull from the water bottle next to the phone. "OK, spill."
Jordan began, "Joseph lied to Emmons about who did the estimates, and now every time Emmons asks Joseph a question, he tells him 'I'll get back to you,' and then he asks me. I'm sick of this. More than sick."
"What happened now?" Stephanie asked.
is the trademark of
the unsophisticated operator"Just now I find out that Joseph misunderstood Emmons' problem with Marigold's budget, so my latest version wasn't what Emmons wanted. Now Joseph is blaming me."
Jordan is entangled in the consequences of a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. In Credit Appropriation, the appropriator (in this instance, Joseph) takes credit for the work of the target (Jordan), who's usually a subordinate or someone who is or feels vulnerable.
Since credit appropriation is the most obvious, least effective, and perhaps the most common of all political maneuvers, it's the trademark of the unsophisticated operator. Still, it hurts. Here are some tips to keep in mind if an Appropriator targets you.
- Be aware
- Even if you haven't yet been targeted, the Appropriator will likely get around to you, eventually. Notice patterns of appropriation, not only from your peers, but from the Appropriator's peers, too. Awareness is preparedness.
- Watch for blowback
- What can be taken can be returned. If the "credit" turns negative, the appropriator is likely to blame you. Resist making modifications or doing any follow-ons to the appropriated work, since these activities can lead to trouble. This is what happened to Jordan.
- Complexity is your friend
- Seed your work with complexities and nuance that you alone understand. Eventually, the complexity will compel the Appropriator to reveal the work's true author. If the complexity is evident enough, it might even deter appropriation altogether.
Credit Appropriation is the first item in my catalog of Devious Political Tactics — more are coming. Have you found yourself in this situation? Or others? Tell me your story. Making these tactics public — and giving them names — is perhaps the best way to prevent their use. Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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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.