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.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
- The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some
of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged
- Ethical Influence: II
- When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can
we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
- A clear understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority
found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably
is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III
- Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor
— can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
- And on April 22: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 22.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
Here are some dates for this program:
- 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.