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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!
The purpose of an Escape Game is to avoid unpleasant consequences. In the two games described below, players are either actively trying to avoid blame or passively shirking responsibility.
“This problem was clearly your fault.”
Scapegoat, which can be played by individuals or groups, involves an existing problem, a search for blame, and a target. In this game, the target is quickly determined to be the cause of the problem, with no exploration of other possibilities.
When Scapegoat is played between colleagues, their blame-shifting conversations can resemble a tennis match. Taken to a higher level, Scapegoat can be played by entire departments. If your boss is a chronic Scapegoat player, the game can be hazardous, because bosses are often able to punish people.
Occasionally, politically stupid Scapegoat players try to make their boss a target. These poor souls usually meet with an unfortunate end.
The Emotional Payoff: “If I’m not the cause of the problem, then I don’t have to feel responsible, guilty, or foolish.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Resentful and angry Scapegoat targets will often try to return the favor when future problems arise. (2) Successful Scapegoating usually means that the real issues are never identified, so the problem continues to exist or will reoccur in the future.
Countermoves: In Scapegoat, countermoves are designed to deflect attention from the target, broaden the scope of the discussion, and determine the true source of the difficulty. If you have a boss who likes to play this game, you may have to divert significant energy to ongoing CYA activity.
The End of the Game: When Scapegoat is a group pastime, the game ends when members decide to adopt more a more constructive method of problem solving. But if your boss likes to play Scapegoat, the game will only end when you get a new boss.
“I don’t want to do it, so I’m not going to do it.”
Avoidance is really a one-person game with unfortunate side effects for anyone who depends on the player. The game is easy to spot: the player puts off unpleasant or difficult tasks until forced to confront them. Various excuses are used as delaying tactics. If your work depends on a chronic Avoidance player, you are doomed to frustration.
The Emotional Payoff: “I can reduce my anxiety by not thinking about an unpleasant task.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Because they create real problems for their colleagues, Avoidance players alienate co-workers and create unnecessary enemies. (2) When their procrastination causes critical deadlines to be missed, these players often find themselves in hot water with important people.
Countermoves: In Avoidance, all countermoves are aimed at getting desired results without directly attacking the player. Although an attack might make you feel better, the result is likely to be even more procrastination.
The End of the Game: Avoiders never change, so you’ll have to keep playing as long as they’re in the picture