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:
- On Organizational Coups d'Etat
- If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed
your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.
- Ethical Influence: I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing
that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- How to Undermine Your Subordinates
- People write to me occasionally that their bosses undermine them, but I know there are bosses who want
to do more undermining than they are already doing. So here are some tips for bosses aspiring to sink
- Stalking the Elephant in the Room: II
- When everyone is thinking something that no one dares discuss, we say that there is "an elephant
in the room." Free-ranging elephants are expensive and dangerous to both the organization and its
people. Here's Part II of a catalog of indicators that elephants are about.
- How to Stop Being Overworked: I
- If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to
it, or at least, lighten the load.
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.