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

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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

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?
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?
Office equipment — or is it office toys?Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness.
The U.S. Senate Chamber in 2011Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers?
A lonely chimpanzeeWorkplace Politics and Social Exclusion: II
In workplace politics, social exclusion can be based on the professional role of the target, the organizational role of the target, or personal attributes of the target. Each kind has its own effects. Each requires specific responses.

See also Workplace Politics, Managing Your Boss and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Handling Q&A after a presentationComing June 30: Answering Questions You Can't Answer
When someone asks an unanswerable question, many of us respond by asking for clarification. That path can lead to trouble. Responding to a question with a question can seem defensive, or worse. How can you answer a question you can't answer? Available here and by RSS on June 30.
A hang glider pilot taking offAnd on July 7: Time to Let Go of Plan A
We had a plan. It was a good one. Our plan seemed to work for a while. But then troubles began. And now things look very bleak. But people can't let go of the plan. For some teams in this situation, there isn't a Plan B. For others, Plan B is a secret. Available here and by RSS on July 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.