Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 38;   September 17, 2008: The Advantages of Political Attack: II

The Advantages of Political Attack: II

by

In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?

In the workplace, political attack differs from routine politics. Routine politics centers around issues: how we should allocate resources, or which strategies would be most effective. In routine politics, the issues themselves usually determine the places and times of political interactions. For instance, the political debates about budget allocations generally occur near the deadlines for budget decisions.

George Washington Crossing the Delaware

George Washington Crossing the Delaware. By the closing days of 1776, with the new nation not yet six months old, the War for Independence was not going well for the former colonies. Washington and his Continental Army had been driven from New York, and the British were occupying both New York and Boston. Washington had retreated west across New Jersey, and final defeat seemed so certain that he had lost much of his army to desertion. Badly in need of a victory, he decided to attack the Hessian garrison at Trenton on the day after Christmas. He chose that day because it was unexpected, and at the time, warfare during the winter season was relatively rare, though becoming less so. The timing and location offered Washington significant advantages, and they did contribute to victory, but he strengthened his plan by gathering extensive intelligence during the week prior to the attack, and by employing a tactic we now call "disinformation" to mislead the Hessians as to his designs. After taking Trenton, he pressed his position, controlling the tempo of the battle, and took Princeton. Office politics and military engagements do differ, but we can learn much from clever military tacticians. The painting is of oil on canvas, by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, American, 1816-1868. Photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Political attacks, by contrast, are timed by the attackers to secure political advantage. For instance, attacks might occur one after the other, to saturate the target's ability to respond. Or, to exploit perceived weaknesses, attackers might engage targets who are already in trouble from other sources.

Because they have the initiative, attackers have time to prepare. They can design their attacks in relative freedom. Closely spaced attacks give the attacker further advantage, because the target's responses are tightly time-constrained.

But timing is just one of the advantages of attackers. Here are some of the choices attackers have that targets do not. See "The Advantages of Political Attack: I," Point Lookout for September 3, 2008, for some of the more general advantages of attackers.

Timing
Sophisticated attackers choose times that work to their own advantage. For instance, the attacker might choose a time when the target is preoccupied with an important deadline, or when traveling or on vacation. Attacks on those who are ill are also possible, but they're rare, because they seem so ruthless.
Since attacks are more likely when you're under pressure, get better at managing pressure. But you can influence even these events, if you let it be known that you'll be busy at a time when you actually won't. Another example: change your previously announced vacation dates suddenly.
Venue
Political attackers have choices
that their targets do not. The
choices they make can
confer significant advantages.
The venue is the attacker's choice: a meeting, an email message, a private conversation or a confidential memo outside the target's awareness — anything is possible.
Awareness of an attack is the first step in formulating a response. Since you can't monitor all venues, rely on your network. And you needn't respond in the venue in which you're attacked. Choose a venue for your response that meets your needs; the venue of the attack was chosen for the attacker's advantage.
Prepositioned assets
Since the attacker has planned the attack and can anticipate a subsequent exchange, he or she can acquire relevant assets in advance. Assets include relationships, information, planted rumors, intelligence, analyses, projections, procedures, and much more. For instance, an attacker can study arcane policies, regulations, or technologies for use later during an exchange.
Anticipate the directions from which attacks can come. Notice whether alliances are forming, whether you're being isolated, or whether the organizational conversation is turning to topics of which you are relatively ignorant. Do what you can to limit the effectiveness of these preparations, and make preparations of your own.

Attackers have one more set of advantages: the willingness to engage. We'll look at the psychology of the attack next time. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: The Advantages of Political Attack: III  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenlSAKJBgeYngGxRBRner@ChacdIEKjDDkXqmciEEToCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and an early pioneer in the field of Public RelationsCommunication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges do they face, and what can we do about them?
The reverse side of the U.S. quarter dollar coin issued in 2000, honoring the state of New HampsireHow to Undermine Your Boss
Ever since I wrote "How to Undermine Your Subordinates," I've received scads of requests for "How to Undermine Your Boss." Must be a lot of unhappy subordinates out there. Well, this one's for you.
Small cage with canary used in testing for carbon monoxide after the Hollinger Mine fire on February 10, 1928On Being the Canary
Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?
Male peponapis pruinosa — one of the "squash bees."What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: I
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
Spanish Walking Stick insect (Leptynia hispanica)Pariah Professions: II
In some organizations entire professions are regarded as pariahs — outsiders. They're expected to perform functions that the organization does need, but their relationships with others in the organization are strained at best. When pariahdom is tolerated, organizational performance suffers.

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenWQEVJbTsrvMrpyaener@ChacfxEKKfPsXSPAIsRHoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.