Politics is indispensible at work. It is the means by which we resolve problems jointly, and allocate resources to achieve joint objectives. And politics has a dark side. Some political operators use political means to advance personal agendas at the expense of the organization, their colleagues, or both. What are the indicators of such behavior? How can we tell whether there is political risk to our organizations, or to our own personal well-being? Here are some indicators of political risk, emphasizing attributes of organizational culture.
- Intentionally inflicting political harm
- Political harm to others can be an unintended result of legitimate actions. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But if someone you work with has harmed another politically, and has done so intentionally, as the primary objective of the political act, beware. That person apparently believes that such actions are within cultural norms. Maybe they are.
- Boasting about having inflicted political harm
- Someone boasting of having inflicted political harm on another could be a signal that, at least in the view of the boaster, the culture actually admires those who succeed in harming others. Such a cultural norm encourages politically motivated attacks. Watch your back.
- Bearing grudges, seeking revenge, or avoiding someone
- Harboring grudges Environments in which people
perceive an absence of procedural
justice are fertile grounds for
the tactics of toxic politicsagainst others, seeking revenge, or avoiding others, are all tactics people use when they feel wronged. People are more likely to use these tactics when they feel that "procedural justice" is unavailable [Aquino 2006]. Environments in which people perceive an absence of procedural justice are fertile grounds for the tactics of toxic politics.
- Rampant bigotry
- When people act out of bigotry against a race, a sex, a sexual orientation, an age group, an ethnic group, a profession, an educational level, an alma mater, a birthplace, or whatever, and when the organizational culture tolerates those bigoted actions, the bigots will, very likely, eventually get around to discriminating against some group that you belong to.
- Rampant idolatry
- Another form of bigotry, with polarity opposite to the most common forms of bigotry, is idolatry, in which we hold members of one social group to be inherently superior to all others. Members of the favored group rarely complain. But if you don't belong to the favored group, you could be at risk.
- Feuds are long-running toxic conflicts between social groups. Feuds between alliances centered around members of the management team at a given level, might be an indication of the inability (or unwillingness) of more senior managers to repair the cultural defects that allow feuds to persist. Even if you aren't currently a member of a feuding faction, the culture may be such that a feud can develop that will involve your part of the organization. Be alert.
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
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Ethical Influence: II
- When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can
we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?
- Obstructionist Tactics: II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
II of a little catalog of tactics.
- OODA at Work
- OODA is a model of decision-making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as
combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.
- 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.
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: I
- When we ask each other questions, the answers aren't always what we seek. Sometimes the behavior of
the respondent is what matters. Here are some techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 3: Capability Inversions and the Dunning-Kruger Effect
- A capability inversion occurs when the person in charge of an effort is far less knowledgeable about the work involved or its purpose than are the people doing that work. In capability inversions, the Dunning-Kruger effect can intensify group dysfunction, sometimes severely disrupting the effort. Available here and by RSS on June 3.
- And on June 10: They Don't Reply to My Email
- Ever have the experience of sending an email message to someone, asking for information or approval or whatever, and then waiting for a response that comes only too late? Maybe your correspondent is an evil loser, but maybe not. Maybe the problem is in your message. Available here and by RSS on June 10.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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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.