Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 39;   September 24, 2003: Devious Political Tactics: Credit Appropriation

Devious Political Tactics: Credit Appropriation

by

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.

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.

A credit thiefAs 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.

Credit appropriation
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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Devious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity  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

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