If you've ever run into roadblocks as you tried to get your work done, and if those roadblocks were due to delays and decisions by co-workers, you might have felt that some people were actually trying to block your efforts. Although intentional obstruction is probably rarer than it seems, the ability to recognize it when it does occur is nevertheless helpful.
Here's Part II of a little catalog of obstructionist tactics. See "Obstructionist Tactics: I," Point Lookout for July 23, 2008, for Part I.
- Misrepresenting to regulators
- If the output or processes of the team are subject to regulation, internal or external, the obstructor can convey misinformation to the regulators. The information conveyed might contain a germ of truth, but it's usually packaged in a manner that creates or stimulates the urge to investigate. The investigation is then a source of delay and distraction to the team.
- Agitating stakeholders
- Obstructors who have contact with external stakeholders, such as customers, might elect to motivate them by disclosing information the obstructors consider to be influential relative to their own aims. The external stakeholders then attempt to accelerate the action of the group in the stakeholders' preferred direction, which, by the design of the obstructor, interferes with the group's progress.
- A technique available to managers involves promoting someone into a position for which he or she might or might not be qualified, so as to gain political advantage for the manager. When this is done, there is an agreement in advance between the obstructing manager and the person promoted. That agreement makes clear between them that the manager's agenda is primary, and that the person promoted will take actions to promote that agenda, deniably, in a manner always consistent with organizational policy. That agenda can include obstruction.
- Career trashing
- Most visible, inspiring objectives have champions — people who have successfully communicated the inspiring objective throughout the organization. To delay, or even halt, movement toward those objectives, obstructors sometimes attack the person of the champion. By trashing the career of the champion, obstructors deprive the target task of its voice, sometimes fatally weakening the organizational will to continue.
- Any complex group effort entails making a series of decisions, and then building on the foundation they comprise. Obstructors can disrupt progress by raising questions about previously settled decisions. The parts of the foundation with greatest leverage are those that underlie large numbers of subsequent choices. These decisions are the favored targets of obstructors who use this tactic.
- Misrepresenting the environment
- Obstructors can disrupt
progress by raising questions
- Both organizations and projects require accurate, effective situational awareness. They must understand the competitive environment, their suppliers, and their customers. By propagating misinformation about the competitive or intellectual environment, or by delaying the transfer of accurate information, obstructors can confuse, mislead, or stimulate debate about objectives, tasks, or persons (especially rivals). The resulting discussions are at least distracting, and could lead to delays and bad decisions.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- There Are No Micromanagers
- If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization
meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're
doing isn't working. There is another way.
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
- A clear understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority
found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III
- Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor
— can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
- I Don't Understand: I
- When someone makes a statement or offers an explanation that's unclear or ambiguous, there are risks
associated with asking for clarification. The risks can seem so terrifying that we decide not to ask.
What keeps us from seeking clarification?
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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- 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.