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.
Now that we've surveyed the tactics, we'll be taking a closer look at them — and how to respond to them — in future issues. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Dealing with Org Chart Age Inversions
- What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants
you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable
reaction to org chart age inversions?
- False Consensus
- Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus
about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace,
but that trouble is often avoidable.
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes
fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere.
How does this happen?
- Why We Don't Care Anymore
- As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might
help you appreciate your job.
- Suppressing Dissent: I
- In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive
act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.
See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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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.
- Wikipedia has a nice article with a list of additional resources
- Some public libraries offer collections. Here's an example from Saskatoon.
- Check my own links collection
- LinkedIn's Office Politics discussion group