We need not be placid victims of devious political operators at work. And we need not respond in kind. We can often disable their tactics before they harm anyone.
Here's another installment of devious political tactics, with suggestions for ethical, effective responses.
- The Dunning-Kruger defense
- The operator who's aware of the Dunning-Kruger Effect can deliver important and perfectly sound information in a halting, circumspect manner. [Kruger 1999] By arousing in the recipient doubt about the validity of the information, the operator limits the likelihood of the recipient acting on it, while simultaneously providing evidence that the information was indeed delivered. If the recipient later charges that the operator failed to deliver the information, or conveyed a false impression, the operator can claim that the information was delivered with the care it deserved. Some operators actually transfer responsibility to the recipient by suggesting that the recipient learn about the Dunning-Kruger effect, to prevent future errors.
- Learn about the Dunning-Kruger effect. When you suspect this tactic, ask the operator directly, "What's your level of confidence in this information?"
- Improvised explosive devices
- In asymmetric warfare, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are usually buried under roadways or hidden in street litter. Similarly, in politics, assets intended to harm targets must sometimes be concealed to be effective. For instance, the operator might conceal knowledge that a critical component supplier is about to enter bankruptcy. Or the operator might display or profess indifference toward a prize to convince the target that the prize is unimportant, and to conceal the operator's own plans to seize the prize. With IEDs, the goal is to induce targets to drop their guard, to give the operator a free hand for a time.
- When you notice that someone known for ruthlessness displays a puzzling indifference to an asset, search for IEDs.
- Exploiting the Zebra Effect
- The Zebra Effect arises When you notice that someone known
for ruthlessness displays a puzzling
indifference to an asset,
search for IEDswhen we have so many items to track that their sheer number reduces our ability to address them. Operators intent on demonstrating their target's incompetence can exploit the Zebra Effect by first deluging the target with irrelevant, distracting demands, and finally assigning something really important with a tight deadline. The target, overwhelmed, might not notice the important task, but even if that task is noticed, the target's attention is already saturated. The substandard performance that follows is a result of the operator's actions, rather than the target's, but the operator can usually contend that the target is incompetent.
- When you receive assignments, the first step is determining their priority. If you have any doubt about priority, ask the operator directly for guidance.
When someone else is targeted unjustly, beware. If the target is your boss, prepare to move on. If the target is your subordinate, intervene. If the target is a peer, and you can't intervene, prepare — you might be next. Top Next Issue
Is 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
For more devious political tactics search for devious political tactics.
For more about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, see "The Paradox of Confidence," Point Lookout for January 7, 2009; "How to Reject Expert Opinion: II," Point Lookout for January 4, 2012; "Overconfidence at Work," Point Lookout for April 15, 2015; "Wishful Thinking and Perception: II," Point Lookout for November 4, 2015; "Wishful Significance: II," Point Lookout for December 23, 2015; "Cognitive Biases and Influence: I," Point Lookout for July 6, 2016; "The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words," Point Lookout for November 16, 2016; and "Risk Acceptance: One Path," Point Lookout for March 3, 2021.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Practice Positive Politics
- Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting
decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be
constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion
date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience
the unique politics of the critical path.
- The Costanza Matrix
- The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if
you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
- Three Levels of Deception at Work
- Deception in workplace politics is probably less common than many believe. Still, being ensnared in
a deception can be a costly and upsetting experience. A valuable skill is recognizing the three types
of deceptions: strategic, operational, and tactical.
- Cassandra at Work
- When a team makes a wrong choice, and only a tiny minority advocated for what turned out to have been
the right choice, trouble can arise when the error at last becomes evident. Maintaining team cohesion
can be a difficult challenge for team leaders.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And 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.
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.
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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.