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Volume 8, Issue 39;   September 24, 2008: The Advantages of Political Attack: III

The Advantages of Political Attack: III

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

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

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