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(Adapted from Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, by Marie G. McIntyre)
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Political maneuvering is part of the ebb and flow of office life, but games have a specific purpose. A truly malicious game will escalate office politics to an entirely different level. Here a few signs that a game is in progress:
Common political games fall into three categories: Power Games, Ego Games, & Escape Games. Keep in mind that these popular pastimes are hardly limited to the workplace. We often play them with family and friends as well!
Power Game players are either trying to increase their leverage or flaunt the power they already have. Some players have malicious intentions, while others are merely self-centered. All Power Games are designed to give the player some type of advantage over other people.
“I think you’re wonderful, so you have to like me.”
Suck Up players are always focused on pleasing the powerful. They shower managers with compliments, frequently request their guidance, and never openly disagree with them. Advanced players actively seek out opportunities to stroke the egos of important executives.
The Emotional Payoff: “I feel safe when people in power like me.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Colleagues generally think that Suck Up players are useless, so they seldom have good peer relationships. (2) When problems occur unexpectedly, managers can become quite unhappy with Suck Ups who concealed bad news. (3) If they acquire a manager who wants unfiltered opinions and honest feedback, Suck Up players are out of luck.
Countermoves: Countermoves are designed to break the pattern of a game, allowing you to get back on a more productive track. With Suck Up players, the game is generally more annoying than harmful. The biggest problem is that sucking up can prevent the sharing of information or opinions, so countermoves should focus on encouraging more candid discussion.
The End of the Game: Suck Up Games end when the player either becomes more assertive and self confident or acquires a boss who hates Suck Ups.
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
Control Game players resist direction or advice from others. Some are dominators, who enjoy telling people what to do. Others are resistors, who may have little desire to lead others, but strongly resent any outside influence over their own activities. And some combine both characteristics.
The Emotional Payoff: “I get to do what I want to do.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Control Games often degenerate into useless power struggles that drain energy from more productive activities. Observers typically wonder why these silly people can’t just grow up and get along. (2) Someone usually loses. Playing a Control Game with your boss can be especially risky, because managers usually have more leverage by virtue of their position.
Countermoves: Control games can be adversarial and destructive, so countermoves should protect the target from possible harm. Here are some strategies to consider with a Control Game player:
The End of the Game: A Control Game is over when the relationship stops feeling adversarial and people are working cooperatively. Or when the weaker player gives up.
“If you don’t fit in, we’re going to get you.”
Shunning is a group game that requires a target, who is punished for being different in some way. Targets gradually realize that they are being excluded from group gatherings and friendly office banter. Any conversation that they join breaks up rather quickly. Required communication is always cool and formal. But since no one will acknowledge that anything unusual is occurring, all attempts to discuss the problem are brushed aside.
The Emotional Payoff: “We feel more powerful because we can punish people.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Because it is a childish game, Shunning makes the players appear immature and small-minded. (2) Shunning creates powerful feelings of anger in the target, who may look for opportunities to retaliate. If the target ever acquires more power, Shunning players better watch out.
Countermoves: Countermoves to a Shunning game should focus on reducing the target’s isolation and gradually breaking down the group’s united front. Find other sources of support. Sometimes the target can simply join another group.
The End of the Game: Shunning Games usually end in one of two ways: either the group offers the target at least minimal acceptance or the target leaves. Shunning is a brutal psychological weapon that can place almost unendurable stress on the victim. Most people cannot tolerate that kind of pressure for long. Nor should they.