Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 39;   September 24, 2008: The Advantages of Political Attack: III

The Advantages of Political Attack: III

by

In workplace politics, attackers have significant advantages that explain, in part, their surprising success rate. In this third part of our series on political attacks, we examine the psychological advantages of attackers.

At work, political attackers seem to some to be amoral, without conscience, or just plain slime. Doubtless, some are, but most are hard working people dedicated to purposes they consider worthwhile. What distinguishes them is that they see their attacks as justifiable, even necessary, parts of their workplace roles.

A New England stone wall

A New England stone wall, probably very like the one contemplated by the poet Robert Frost, in his poem, Mending Wall. It is this poem that contains the famous line, "Good fences make good neighbors." Both the poem and its most famous line deal with the paradox of fences — that the keeping apart that they do so well is what enables the neighbors to live together in (sometimes) harmonious community. Like fences, political attack is also a probably-essential, if paradoxical, part of organizational life. When we view it as vile, and try to expunge it, we also eliminate its benefits, among them, the mutual strengthening of the adversaries. Photo courtesy the Image Gallery of the American and New England Studies program of the University of Southern Maine.

Some attacks are indeed vile and serve little purpose. Among these are attacks aimed at the target's essence or legitimacy. For organizational targets, they raise questions about their continued independent existence; for people, they emphasize the target's character.

Enduring a political attack on one's essence is emotionally painful. It's unnerving, and some targets have difficulty maintaining the coolness needed for formulating effective responses. To learn how to reason under such pressure, it helps to appreciate the psychological advantages attackers enjoy.

Deal with your inhibitions about attacking
Although most of us are reluctant to initiate attack, we find it somewhat easier to respond to it. Initiation often creates feelings of guilt. Since the key to prevailing in a political conflict is capturing the initiative by counterattacking, targets probably cannot recover unless they can overcome their inhibitions. Since attackers have already dealt with their inhibitions, they can usually maintain dominance until the target's soul-searching is completed.
Prepare in advance. If you anticipate attack, recognize that survival depends on your willingness to counterattack. Deal with your inhibitions by accepting that they apply only in times of relative peace. And remember that initiating attacks can be justified when your target's behavior is harmful to the organization.
Rewrite your unwritten rules
Most believe that political conflict has at least some rules. For instance, most agree that damaging a rival's computer is foul play. But at the margins, there's little agreement about what's fair or ethical. The advantage goes to the flexible.
Your Although most of us
are reluctant to initiate
attack, we find it
somewhat easier
to respond to it
own rules are your own. They're probably not shared by your attacker. Even though your attacker has been unwilling to engage in some kinds of conduct, those inhibitions might fall at any time. The more effective your response, the more likely is your attacker to overcome those inhibitions. Your political survival might require expanding your own boundaries more rapidly than your attacker does. Find ways to expand your boundaries with integrity.
Use diversions and distractions
Diversions and distractions are methods for controlling the target. Diversions absorb the capacity of the target to counterattack. Distractions absorb the capacity of the target to understand the environment.
Observe the political attackers in your organization. Notice their use of diversion and distraction. Determine their set routines; watch for improvisations. Anticipating what might be effective against you helps you design countermeasures. Learn techniques that help you when you attack.

These are difficult transitions for anyone to make, especially under the pressure of political attack. If attack abounds where you work, start making your transitions now. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Eliminate Meetings  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of GhanaHow to Get a Promotion in Line
If you want a promotion in line — a promotion to the next supervisory level in your organization — what should you do now to make it come about? What risks are there?
Witchweed (striga hermonthica) a parasitic plantHow Pet Projects Get Resources: Abuse
Pet projects thrive in many organizations — even those that are supposedly "lean and mean." Some nurturers of pet projects abuse their authority to secure resources for their pets. How does this happen?
U.S. Military Academy graduates toss their hats during commencement ceremonies at West Point, New York, May 23, 2009Social Entry Strategies: I
Much more than work happens in the workplace. We also engage in social behaviors, including one sometimes called social entry. We use social entry strategies to make places for ourselves in social groups at work.
A Mustang GT illegally occupying two parking spaces at Vaughan Mills Mall, OntarioNarcissistic Behavior at Work: III
People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people.
A cat sleeping on grassColumbo Tactics: I
When the less powerful must deal with the more powerful, or the much more powerful, the less powerful can gain important advantages by adapting the strategy and tactics of the TV detective Lt. Columbo. Here's Part I of a collection of his tactics.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingComing February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
Stained Glass of William of Ockham in a church in Surrey, England, United KingdomAnd on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.