In organizational politics, most attack strategies assume accurate predictions of the defender's response. Since unsophisticated attackers tend to leave options open for defenders, finding suitable defense strategies is relatively straightforward. But sophisticated attackers usually try to gain control of the defender's choices to reduce uncertainty about the outcome. The sophisticated attack is therefore the interesting case.
For sophisticated attacks, unexpected responses are preferable. One response that's often effective is "rope-a-dope." The term was first applied to Mohammed Ali's strategy in a boxing match with then heavyweight champion George Foreman, on October 30, 1974, in Kinshasa. After letting Foreman tire on the attack, Ali won by a knockout in the eighth round.
The strength of "rope-a-dope" is its focus on the long time scale. Foreman was thinking on the time scale of the jab or punch, or at most, several combinations. Ali was thinking on the time scale of several rounds. Ali's strategy was to withstand blows while Foreman exhausted himself, and then switch to offense.
In organizational politics, attackers tend to focus on the same time scale as their attacks. They try to control the defender's immediate response options, emphasizing especially those responses that could harm the attacker and eventually give the defender the initiative.
A rope-a-dope response to political attacks first emphasizes withstanding the attacks long enough to render the attacker incapable of effective defense. Only then does the defender go to the offense.
For example, suppose Hannibal, the attacker and more powerful, is the leader of H-Division. Hannibal seeks to acquire C-Division, headed by Clarice, the defender and less powerful. Hannibal intends to terminate Clarice, and then install policies that decrease sales of C-Division's products, some of which embarrass H-Division because of their superiority.
Defenders usually try to make the most cogent rational case for retaining the status quo. Because logic is less effective than political power, they rarely succeed. For instance, the attacker might have prepared the ground by having pre-positioned persuasive rational arguments — sometimes based on misrepresentations — outside the defender's awareness.
The rope-a-dope response to such an attack has three steps:
- Enhance situational awareness
- Enhance In organizational politics, attackers
tend to focus on the same
time scale as their attacksdetection of the attacker's pre-positioning of rational arguments for acquiring and eventually dismembering the defending organization. Using this knowledge, adjust C-Division's activities, and prepare — but don't deliver — counterclaims and refutations of Hannibal's claims.
- Produce a superior, high-value, high-visibility product
- Produce a product that's based on strong customer relationships, and which cannot be replicated outside C-Division, because it depends on the division's continued existence, intact. This ploy secures organizational longevity, even if H-Division acquires C-Division.
- Seize the initiative
- After the acquisition, when Hannibal's exaggerated claims are beginning to crumble, release the previously crafted refutations and counterclaims.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Credit Appropriation
- Managers and supervisors who take credit for the work of subordinates or others who feel powerless are
using a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. It's the mark of the unsophisticated political operator.
- Beyond Our Control
- When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed.
We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
- Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences.
Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
- Conversation Despots
- Some people insist that conversations reach their personally favored conclusions, no matter what others
want. Here are some of their tactics.
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.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- 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.