It's the rare education that includes even one course in workplace politics. Yet for most of us, whatever career we chose, workplace politics is a part of workplace life. Some days we do well. And then there are the other days. What do you do when you face a really difficult political problem? Here's Part I of a little catalog of ten often-useful tactics. See "Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I," Point Lookout for February 1, 2006, for Part II.
- What problem am I solving?
- By the time most of us think about problem solving, we're already deep in, having started solving before we're sure of the problem. If this pattern is familiar, it's probably a good idea to start your thinking by asking "What problem am I solving?" Knowing where you actually are usually helps.
- After you've fully assessed the situation, you can determine what to keep doing, what to start doing, and what to stop doing.
- Is this entirely my problem?
- Sometimes we jump right into solving difficult problems without asking whether they're ours to solve, especially when we feel that the consequences of not solving the problem probably will be ours to deal with.
- Unless all of the consequences affect you, taking on the problem probably is taking on too much. Once you act, you risk gaining ownership of all the consequences, including those that wouldn't have been yours to deal with.
- What happens if I wait?
- We can't be really sure
that what we think
actually will happen
- In most cases, consequences are uncertain. We can't really be sure that what we think will happen actually will happen.
- Often, it's best to wait. Then you can deal with the consequences that are real — and those that are yours.
- Whose problem is this, anyway?
- If you've decided that the problem — or some of it — really isn't yours to solve, consider who might be the true owner or owners of the problem. Sometimes, the true owner is obvious, because they're either contending with you for solving rights, or they've run off and hid. More often, ownership is ambiguous, and determining the true owner becomes the first priority.
- A risk when using this tactic is hastily assuming ownership of the meta-problem — the problem of determining the true owner of the original problem. Step away from problems that aren't yours, and let the true owner of the meta-problem keep ownership of it.
These tactics can help, often by providing relief from the urge to address problems unnecessarily. To use them, though, you have to solve another problem first — you have to remember to use them. And that can be really difficult. We'll deal with that one next time. Top Next Issue
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:
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- Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather,
they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's
political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- A Critique of Criticism: II
- To make things better, we criticize, but we often miss the mark. We inflict pain without meaning to,
and some of that pain comes back to us. How can we get better outcomes, while reducing the risks of
- The Perils of Political Praise
- Political Praise is any public statement, praising (most often) an individual, and including a characterization
of the individual or the individual's deeds, and which spins or distorts in such a way that it advances
the praiser's own political agenda, possibly at the expense of the one praised.
- Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical,
even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
- Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting
something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders.
Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
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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.