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.
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
to respond to itown 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 Top Next Issue
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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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.