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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!
All Ego Games are designed to make the player feel smarter, better, or more special than other people. Some games require a victim, while others just allow the players to puff themselves up a bit. Most Ego Game players are actually masking strong feelings of insecurity or inferiority.
“Aren’t you impressed with me?”
Words and actions of Superiority players send the clear message that they are important, unique, and indispensable. Hogging the conversation, bragging, and ignoring others’ needs are all Superiority moves. When their real life isn’t impressive enough, some dedicated players will actually fabricate stories. Superiority usually has only one player, who is simply in search of an audience. But when two players compete, a predictable and pointless “my dog’s bigger than your dog” pattern emerges.
The Emotional Payoff: “I can make others believe that I’m important and special.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Superiority behaviors are quite annoying to colleagues, who eventually just tune out these braggarts. (2) Because these maneuvers are rather transparent, Superiority players often come across as insecure – the exact opposite of the impression they are trying to create.
Countermoves: Because Superiority players are just trying to impress their audience, these games are usually more aggravating than destructive. If the player’s behavior begins to interfere with work, however, then it needs to stop.
The End of the Game: A Superiority Game is over when the player stops trying to impress you. Some people only play Superiority with new acquaintances and drop the pose once they get to know someone.
“You’re obviously an idiot, so I must be brilliant.”
Put-Down Games require a player and at least one target. These players are pathetic little souls who can only feel good about themselves by making someone else feel stupid or inept. They specialize in sarcasm and criticism, making biting remarks that are unnecessary and hurtful.
The Emotional Payoff: “By demonstrating my superiority over others, I can feel less inferior myself.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Put-Down Games quickly produce resentful and angry adversaries. (2) With their constant belittling of others, these players actually appear insecure instead of superior.
Countermoves: Because they are widely known as chronic complainers, Put-Down players are often politically impotent. But they are most unpleasant to be around, so avoiding them is a wise stress management strategy.
The End of the Game: This game only ends when one of you leaves. Put-Down specialists seldom change.
“You’d like to be one of us, but you can’t.”
An In-Group Game requires two separate and unequal groups. Everyone knows that one is more desirable and that membership is restricted, but no one is supposed to talk about it. Members of the In-Group usually share some identifiable characteristic.
Unlike Shunning players, In-Group members are not necessarily hostile to the out-group. They just enjoy being part of their special little clique. Communication between the two groups may be quite cordial and pleasant, but everyone knows that an invisible barrier exists (although members of the “in” clique will never publicly admit it).
The Emotional Payoff: “Being part of an exclusive group makes me feel special.”
Pitfalls for Players: (1) Resentment often festers beneath the friendly façade of out-group members, who may retaliate in some way. (2) Divided groups are as seldom as effective as cohesive groups, so the work usually suffers along with the relationships.
Countermoves: The purpose of breaking up an In-Group Game is not to disrupt In-Group relationships, but to make the whole group more inclusive.
The End of the Game: The game is over when all members of the group can interact freely, without feeling that some “rule” is being violated. Unless the In-Group is really entrenched, this goal can usually be achieved.