Most people are familiar with some forms of camouflage as it's used in nature or by the military. The idea usually relates to disguising or cloaking a physical entity so as to make detection difficult. In nature, camouflage often takes the form of protective coloration. Military applications involve similar techniques, but there are also more sophisticated disguises.
Military theorists recognize two classes of deception. Passive deception disguises an existing capability, facility, or intention. Active deception makes a nonexistent capability, facility, or intention appear to be real.
At work, deceptions of all kinds are often a tool of politics. Applying what scientists know about deception in nature, and what military theorists know about deception in war, we can gain new insights into its use in workplace politics. Here are two examples of deceptions in workplace politics that employ passive camouflage.
- Disruptive coloration
- The black and white coloration of killer whales exemplifies what's called disruptive coloration. The color pattern contradicts the whale's body shape, which gives it an advantage. In the often-uneven light of the subsurface marine environment, other animals might not recognize the killer whale until too late.
- In preparation for downsizing, managers must select projects for termination from among projects underway or planned. In some cases, sound decisions require project status reviews that are either sudden or beyond the routine review. If these reviews occur only in preparation for downsizing, conducting them sets off rumors that could trigger an unwanted exodus of employees who believe that they're about to be terminated themselves. Making such project reviews routine prevents them from being seen as a signal of downsizing. With respect to project reviews, such a practice disrupts the boundary between normal operation and preparation for downsizing.
- In nature, Applying what scientists know about
camouflage in nature, and what military
theorists know about camouflage in
war, we can gain new insights
into its use in workplace politicsmimesis is mimicry. In the context of camouflage, the flower mantises, which mimic flowers, provide good examples. Typically, flower mantises position themselves on a plant and hold still, or slowly sway back and forth, mimicking one of the plant's flowers, until an insect lands close enough to be caught. Some flower mantises have dark spots on their bodies that act as decoys for actual insects.
- In reorganizations, there is sometimes a need to ensure orderly transitions of responsibilities from employees who will be discharged. To ensure that they won't depart before the transition of their responsibilities is complete, and to ensure that they'll cooperate willingly, these employees are sometimes assigned fictitious new responsibilities. Convinced by this mimicry that they can rely on continued employment, these employees remain in place, carrying out their new assignments while they're being debriefed about their former assignments. When the debriefing is complete, they're discharged, and the fictitious efforts that held them in place are terminated.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Empire Building
- Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains
to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate
through or around them?
- Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations
- Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status —
they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of
doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog
of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
- Devious Political Tactics: Mis- and Disinformation
- Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation,
disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
- The Discontinuity Effect: What and Why
- Counterproductive competition is more likely in group-group interactions than in one-to-one or one-to-group
interactions. Why does counterproductive competition happen?
- Virtual Interviews: I
- The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. Although understanding the psychology
of virtual interviews helps both interviewers and candidates, candidates would do well to use the virtual
interview to demonstrate video presence.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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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.