Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 40;   October 1, 2003:

Devious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity

by

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.

Jordan looked up to see Stephanie standing in his doorway. She didn't look happy. With her eyes, she asked him for some time. Jordan rolled over towards his table and pointed to a chair, palm up. Stephanie closed the door, set down her water bottle and slowly sat.

False opportunities
appear to be chances
to contribute or achieve.
They aren't.
"Bad day," she began. "Marigold might be shelved."

Jordan had no words. Stephanie had created Marigold, and she'd hoped for a ride on its success. Marigold was a great idea, and she certainly deserved recognition. "I don't understand," he said. "Why?"

Stephanie stared at her water bottle. "Emmons mumbled something about new priorities from Diamond Square, that's all I know."

"But he must have known," said Jordan. "Why would he give you Marigold only to shut it down a month later?"

Lots of possibilities. Stephanie's predicament could be the result of having accepted a false opportunity. A false opportunity is a tactic some managers use to manipulate subordinates or to build empires. Here are some kinds of false opportunities.

The rhinestone
A rhinestone-decorated pacifierIt glitters, but it's worthless. A rhinestone looks like an opportunity, but the grantor can undermine it in important ways: offering it too late; providing insufficient resources; requiring impossibly short completion dates or impossible amounts of work; or failing to remove conflicting demands.
The diversion
The offer might be less desirable than another opportunity that's out of your awareness or isn't yet announced. Once you accept, you're tied up, and unavailable for the really good one that comes along.
The dead end
It looks like an opportunity, but it's under threat of material change, such as reorganization, acquisition, or downsizing; or a new high-level manager might be about to appear — one who's hostile to the opportunity; or a related business line is about to be sold off or shut down; or a competitive project is about to begin.
The foray
The opportunity might be an attempt to infringe on the turf of another, using you as a pawn. Sometimes the Foray is covert. If the project works, the grantor might go public, claiming an achievement. If it fails, it fails secretly. If it's discovered before completion, you might be left exposed, and bear some or all of the responsibility for the infringement.
Calisthenics
Some opportunities serve only to occupy the subordinate. Even if the project is successful, it will likely be shelved. This kind of "opportunity" is most often secret, because it could lead to demands from others for support for their own preferred opportunities.

You don't have to accept the False Opportunity when it appears — you can consider it a request for a favor, and ask for something in exchange before you accept. Remember to be careful what you ask for. Go to top Top  Next issue: Your Wishing Wand  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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See also Workplace Politics, Managing Your Boss and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
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In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

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