Workplace politics is an amorphous mystery to many of us, in part because we lack some simple tools. Here's Part II of a little catalog of ten widely applicable tactics. See "Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I," Point Lookout for February 1, 2006, for more.
- Am I solving the right problem?
- Even if you solve the problem, your solution might not be useful unless you solve the right problem.
- A risk of this tactic is inappropriately assuming responsibility for problem definition. Focus only on the portion of the problem definition space that truly is yours.
- What's the smallest piece I can usefully address?
- Often what looks unitary from afar is actually composite close up. Once you get into it, you can clearly see its separate parts.
- When you can finally discern the pieces, focus on the easy parts. If one of them feels like a good fit, go for it.
- Can I get help?
- Often what looks
unitary from afar
is actually composite
- Asking for help can be difficult if we feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Some like the feeling of independence that comes with control, even if that sense of control is an illusion. See "Are You Taking on the Full Load?," Point Lookout for February 6, 2002, and "Heavy Burdens: Should, Always, Must, and Never," Point Lookout for February 27, 2002, for more.
- When ownership of a problem is joint with others, all owners must work together. And even when you own the problem fully, addressing it might be beyond your capability. Ask for help when you need it.
- What kind of help would help?
- Difficult problems are difficult, in part, because the tools we do know about haven't worked. And when we don't know about something we need, it's hard to ask for it.
- When you feel lost, ask someone what kind of help would help. Check in with a mentor, a coach, a colleague, or a friend.
- Can I confront?
- If the problem results from the actions of another, we sometimes feel the urge to escalate, to force our partners to change what they're doing. But escalation can be dangerous because it might harm the relationship.
- Here are two alternatives. First, tell your partner what you want. Explain first what problems you face that might be visible only to you. Alternatively, and even less confrontational — ask for what you want. One possible risk of these tactics: they reveal that you know what's happening, and this knowledge might be used against you.
- What do I already know?
- Remembering what you already know is perhaps your most important tool. Sadly, under stress, remembering anything can be very difficult.
- I remind myself by breathing. It slows me down and clears my mind, probably because oxygen is an aid to clear thinking.
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:
- Are You a Fender?
- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
- What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: I
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize
your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying
out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
- Managing Non-Content Risks: I
- When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated
with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less
attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets
- Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical,
even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored,
or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
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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- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-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.
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.