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:
- Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional
- Scope creep is the tendency of some projects to expand their goals. Usually, we think of scope creep
as an unintended consequence of a series of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's much more than that.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring
costs. How can we quantify management debt?
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes
fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere.
How does this happen?
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: II
- When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually
exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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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.