It's the rare education that includes even one course in workplace politics. Yet for most of us, whatever career we chose, workplace politics is a part of workplace life. Some days we do well. And then there are the other days. What do you do when you face a really difficult political problem? Here's Part I of a little catalog of ten often-useful tactics. See "Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I," Point Lookout for February 1, 2006, for Part II.
- What problem am I solving?
- By the time most of us think about problem solving, we're already deep in, having started solving before we're sure of the problem. If this pattern is familiar, it's probably a good idea to start your thinking by asking "What problem am I solving?" Knowing where you actually are usually helps.
- After you've fully assessed the situation, you can determine what to keep doing, what to start doing, and what to stop doing.
- Is this entirely my problem?
- Sometimes we jump right into solving difficult problems without asking whether they're ours to solve, especially when we feel that the consequences of not solving the problem probably will be ours to deal with.
- Unless all of the consequences affect you, taking on the problem probably is taking on too much. Once you act, you risk gaining ownership of all the consequences, including those that wouldn't have been yours to deal with.
- What happens if I wait?
- We can't be really sure
that what we think
actually will happen
- In most cases, consequences are uncertain. We can't really be sure that what we think will happen actually will happen.
- Often, it's best to wait. Then you can deal with the consequences that are real — and those that are yours.
- Whose problem is this, anyway?
- If you've decided that the problem — or some of it — really isn't yours to solve, consider who might be the true owner or owners of the problem. Sometimes, the true owner is obvious, because they're either contending with you for solving rights, or they've run off and hid. More often, ownership is ambiguous, and determining the true owner becomes the first priority.
- A risk when using this tactic is hastily assuming ownership of the meta-problem — the problem of determining the true owner of the original problem. Step away from problems that aren't yours, and let the true owner of the meta-problem keep ownership of it.
These tactics can help, often by providing relief from the urge to address problems unnecessarily. To use them, though, you have to solve another problem first — you have to remember to use them. And that can be really difficult. We'll deal with that one next time. Top Next Issue
Is 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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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Knife-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?
- Pariah Professions: 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.
- Exploiting Functional Fixedness: I
- Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that creates difficulty in seeing novel uses of things that
have familiar uses. Some devious moves in workplace politics exploit functional fixedness.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically
places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else.
It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there.
- Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external vendor is charged with managing information about a large
project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior.
What's the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
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.
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.