In the workplace, political attack differs from routine politics. Routine politics centers around issues: how we should allocate resources, or which strategies would be most effective. In routine politics, the issues themselves usually determine the places and times of political interactions. For instance, the political debates about budget allocations generally occur near the deadlines for budget decisions.
Political attacks, by contrast, are timed by the attackers to secure political advantage. For instance, attacks might occur one after the other, to saturate the target's ability to respond. Or, to exploit perceived weaknesses, attackers might engage targets who are already in trouble from other sources.
Because they have the initiative, attackers have time to prepare. They can design their attacks in relative freedom. Closely spaced attacks give the attacker further advantage, because the target's responses are tightly time-constrained.
But timing is just one of the advantages of attackers. Here are some of the choices attackers have that targets do not. See "The Advantages of Political Attack: I," Point Lookout for September 3, 2008, for some of the more general advantages of attackers.
- Sophisticated attackers choose times that work to their own advantage. For instance, the attacker might choose a time when the target is preoccupied with an important deadline, or when traveling or on vacation. Attacks on those who are ill are also possible, but they're rare, because they seem so ruthless.
- Since attacks are more likely when you're under pressure, get better at managing pressure. But you can influence even these events, if you let it be known that you'll be busy at a time when you actually won't. Another example: change your previously announced vacation dates suddenly.
- Political attackers have choices
that their targets do not. The
choices they make can
confer significant advantages.
- The venue is the attacker's choice: a meeting, an email message, a private conversation or a confidential memo outside the target's awareness — anything is possible.
- Awareness of an attack is the first step in formulating a response. Since you can't monitor all venues, rely on your network. And you needn't respond in the venue in which you're attacked. Choose a venue for your response that meets your needs; the venue of the attack was chosen for the attacker's advantage.
- Prepositioned assets
- Since the attacker has planned the attack and can anticipate a subsequent exchange, he or she can acquire relevant assets in advance. Assets include relationships, information, planted rumors, intelligence, analyses, projections, procedures, and much more. For instance, an attacker can study arcane policies, regulations, or technologies for use later during an exchange.
- Anticipate the directions from which attacks can come. Notice whether alliances are forming, whether you're being isolated, or whether the organizational conversation is turning to topics of which you are relatively ignorant. Do what you can to limit the effectiveness of these preparations, and make preparations of your own.
Attackers have one more set of advantages: the willingness to engage. We'll look at the psychology of the attack next time. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Dismissive Gestures: III
- Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge
or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and
they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
- 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.
- Unwanted Hugs from Strangers
- Some of us have roles at work that expose us to unwanted hugs from people we don't know. After a while,
this experience can be far worse than merely annoying. How can we deal with unwanted hugs from strangers?
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II
- Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor.
They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
- An Introduction to Workplace Ostracism
- We say that a person has been ostracized from a group when that person is ignored by the members of
that group or excluded from participating in that group's activities, and when we might otherwise expect
that person to be a member. Workplace ostracism can have expensive consequences for the enterprise.
See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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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