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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- Part III of our catalog of obstacles encountered in retrospectives, when we try to uncover why we succeeded
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- Exploiting Functional Fixedness: I
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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.
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.