Toxic political environments are unhealthy places to work. If you find yourself in one, consider moving on. If you do decide to stay, you'd best learn how to survive there. One set of required skills is the ability to understand, repel, and thrive on political attacks.
A political attack differs from other challenges in its intent, which is usually disruption of the target's career. It can come in many forms, including criticism, innuendo, rumor, budget cuts, termination, resource appropriation, and character assassination.
Since political attacks are so often based on lies or unsubstantiated allegations, a natural question arises: Why are they so often successful? The answer, I believe, lies in the nature of Attack itself. Attack confers advantages upon attackers, independent of the particular tools used.
Here's Part I of a survey of the attributes of attack that make it so effective, emphasizing the general properties of attacks.
- Because the attacker knows about the attack in advance, attack planning is almost certainly part of the attacker's approach. Because the target usually prefers to attend to business rather than politics, targets tend not to plan their responses to political attacks. Sadly, planned actions are usually more effective than unplanned actions.
- You might not relish politics, but if you've decided to remain in a politically toxic environment, you'll be engaging in attack/response exchanges. Have plans. Study potential attackers. Know how they operate: their assets and their weaknesses.
- Use of surprise
- Surprise is almost inherent in a first attack; it's almost precluded in a response to an attack. Surprise confers advantage because it usually creates disorientation in the target, and disorientation leads to an uncoordinated and ineffective response.
- It's tempting to just stick to your job, and ignore the possibility of attack. But if you suspect a political attack might come, prepare for it. Find ways to limit the disorientation that usually results from a surprise attack. Determine where you're vulnerable, where and when the attack might occur, and prepare to respond if attacked.
- Control of tempo
- It's tempting to just
stick to your job, and ignore
the possibility of attack, but
you'll do better if you prepare
- The tempo of an exchange is its characteristic rhythm — the rough periodicity of attack and response. The attacker who sets the tempo can keep the target off balance. While the target is absorbing one attack, and formulating or executing a response, the sophisticated attacker launches yet another attack, thus preventing effective response to the first. Repeating this pattern, the advantage of the attacker steadily grows, while the target sinks ever deeper into the mire.
- Once attacked, effective response must accomplish two things. You must respond to the attack, and you must counterattack, at a time and in a venue for which the attacker is ill prepared. Seizing the initiative and controlling the tempo are critical to survival.
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:
- Snares at Work
- Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our
own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how
to deal with them.
- When You're the Least of the Best: I
- The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the
new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced.
For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
- 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.
- Devious Political Tactics: Mis- and Disinformation
- Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation,
disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
- Cassandra at Work
- When a team makes a wrong choice, and only a tiny minority advocated for what turned out to have been
the right choice, trouble can arise when the error at last becomes evident. Maintaining team cohesion
can be a difficult challenge for team leaders.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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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.