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. 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; and "The Paradox of Carefully Chosen Words," Point Lookout for November 16, 2016.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of non-verbal insults.
- Hostile Collaborations
- Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration
without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness,
and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations,
and how can we do them well?
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture.
These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help.
Here are some examples.
- Extrasensory Deception: II
- In negotiating agreements, the partners who do the drafting have an ethical obligation not to exploit
the advantages of the drafting role. Some drafters don't meet that standard.
- How Did I Come to Be So Overworked?
- You're good at your job, but there's just too much of it, and it keeps on coming. Your boss doesn't
seem to realize how much work you do. How does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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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.