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:
- Are You a Fender?
- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
- Using Indirectness at Work
- Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information
indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore
well-being and comity within the organization.
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
- Bottlenecks: I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly
find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
- Reframing Revision Resentment: I
- From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks,
an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration,
and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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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.