In workplace politics, as in much of Life, it's easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble. In that spirit, last time we examined attributes of organizational cultures that indicate elevated political risk. But whether or not a group's culture tolerates willfully damaging political conflict, intentionally harming someone, directly or not, is a choice available to anyone.
That's why observations of personal behavior are useful for assessing political risk. Here are several behavior patterns worth noticing.
- Repeated, covert behavioral norm violations
- Most of us abide by behavioral norms — no cussing, courtesy to all, and the like. There are deviations, though, and penalties usually follow. Those who violate norms repeatedly and covertly have found ways to harm or offend others while evading penalties. To manage the risk of harm, you can try avoiding these people, which might work for a while. Better: leverage your organization's norm enforcement infrastructure by finding ways to expose the offenders.
- Manipulation and deception
- People who repeatedly manipulate or deceive others usually do so not for the benefit of their targets, but for their own personal advantage. Avoidance is a common defensive response. Another is explaining to the deceiver how hurtful his or her behavior is. Rarely is either strategy effective. Reconciling yourself to the person's dishonesty, while guarding against being tricked again, is probably the best course.
- Substance abuse
- People engaged in abuse of addictive substances aren't in control of their own behavior. Their need to meet the requirements of their addiction limits their ability to choose to avoid harming others. Indeed, the substance abuse can even expose them to the risk of control by their substance supply chain. Relying on people in such predicaments to behave respectfully toward others is risky.
- Some behaviors can be as addictive as substances. One especially addictive behavior is quarreling. The thrill of prevailing in disputes can be so enticing that the quarrel itself becomes more important than the matter in dispute. Close collaborations with the quarrel-addicted are unlikely to come to good ends.
- Gambling is another well-established addictive behavior. We usually think of gambling as gaming, but we gamble in the workplace when we undertake high-risk projects or when we seek to dislodge powerful political foes. Although assuming reasonable risk is a necessity of modern work life, there are those who seek unreasonable When people are ensnared by addiction,
their need to meet the requirements
of their addiction limits their ability
to choose to avoid harming othersrisk so they can experience the thrill of defying the odds. Collaborations and alliances with such people are unwise.
- Rumormongering is another addictive behavior. The thrill of telling someone something they haven't yet heard can be so rewarding that the rumormongerer yields to the temptation to embellish — essentially, to lie — because seeming to be "in the know" becomes more important than Truth. Telling such people anything at all can risk its incorporation into the next rumor, possibly damaging even to you.
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:
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
- When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming
the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of
the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities
just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
- Managing Non-Content Risks: II
- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand
— content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are
outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those
that relate to organizational politics.
- You Can't Control What Other People Think
- Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think?
Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
- Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
- And on November 28: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.
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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.