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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Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Ethical Influence: I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing
that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- The Advantages of Political Attack: II
- In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions.
Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also
have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Holding Back: II
- Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams.
Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort
they could contribute.
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 28: Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
- And on September 4: How Messages Get Mixed
- Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message. Available here and by RSS on September 4.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- 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.