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What they say &

What they really mean

Article:Political Games. Play it your way.
Tool: Political games at work

Behind-the-maskAre you a victim of a political game? You are not happy at work. Someone is making you feel bad about yourself. Even though you are trying hard to please that person, nothing you ever do seems good enough. You are beginning to look bad in front of your colleagues and bosses. Don't feel bad about yourself or your ability. You are simply experiencing workplace politics.

Instead of trying harder, try to understand the political game they are playing. Use this glossary to understand the intention of the person who is criticizing or demeaning you. Then stop playing their game. Start playing your own game. Develop a strategy to achieve what you want. A strategy that is based on changing the game so that you can play to your strengths.

The dictionary below shows what political players say to you - and looking behind their masks -what they really mean.





Best friend. "You are my best friend and I'm just looking out for you. I am trying to protect you from your worst enemy."

If I pretend to be your friend, you won't be aware that I am working against you, until it is too late.




Too busy. "We are too busy." "There is too much happening right now". "We can't train the people now." "There is no space in my diary."

This is not my priority. I am not getting measured on work I do for you. Neither am I being rewarded. So go away, and don't count on my support.

No budget. "There is no budget."

We don't really care about what you are doing. You can carry on trying, and you can keep yourself busy if you want to, but we are not going to support you in any way.













"I promised them that you would..."

Got you! I know one of your values is you like to keep your promises. The fact that you didn't actually make the promise, is irrelevant. I made a promise on your behalf, without asking you if it suited you. I have trapped you. If you don't keep the promise, you will look bad in front of others. This could destroy your reputation.

Issue. "We have an issue. People are not embracing whatever you are doing. People have a problem with what you are doing."

What you don't know is that we intend to find a fault in whatever you are doing. We have no intention of helping you to solve the problems we identify. But, by pointing out that there is a problem with what you are doing, we can prevent you from getting a budget you want, or from expecting us to do anything. We can sabotage you without you even knowing it. If we point out problems with what you are doing often enough, before long, everyone will believe that what you are doing is worthless. Then in comparison to you, we will look good. You will be isolated soon.








Not good enough. "I told you that you need to ... before we can...." "You must first train our people." "There is a fault that must be fixed before." "It isn't good enough."

I can delay things for as long as I want. All I have to do is to distract you. If I keep criticizing you, or the system, or the report, I can put the monkey onto your back. The focus goes onto what you haven't done yet, rather than on what I need to do. What a wonderful delaying tactic.

No response. They just won't speak to you, or return your calls.

I don't want to deal with an issue that doesn't play to my strengths. The topic you want to discuss is something that doesn't make me look good, or feel good about myself. So, to avoid dealing with this, I just won't have time for you. If you e-mail or phone me, I will ignore your messages. When I have something that I need from you, or something that points out a weakness in you, then I will resume contact with you.

Not for us. "This may work in other companies or other areas, but its not for us. "

I don't want to see this happen in my own area because it could expose me as not being good enough.


Only when: "We can only do this when..." "Other things must be done before we..." "They need to be made competent, they need to be up-skilled, there needs to be a better system in place."

I will give you a list of pre-requirements that will keep you distracted for as long as it takes. I will make the pre-requirements vague enough, so you can never prove you have met them. And if you do meet them, I will just add another pre-requirement to the list. I could delay your new system by months just using this technique.


Problems: "I am happy when you tell me your problems."

When I hear your problems I compare my achievements to your problems and feel superior to you.






Strategic thinking: "You are not a strategic thinker." "You need to think more strategically." "You are not being strategic enough."

I don't want you to go around thinking that you are important. Or that you are as valuable as I am.

"This is strategic."

You had better realize that this is important. It should be given priority. It should be allocated a budget.


Team player: " You are not a team player." or "You are not acting like a team player."

You are not allowing me to take credit for your hard work. You are now looking good and I don't like what this will mean to me.

This isn't... "This isn't like where you used to work before." "This isn't your old company or your old division."

Everything you've ever done in the past counts for nothing here. I don't want to hear about your past experiences, or what has worked for you before. I want you to do it my way.


"I am sorry I am late. I am so busy that it is impossible to be on time." Or "Mr X is running late. Please wait."

"I want to show you that I am more powerful than you."

"I expect you to be on time. But I don't have to. I am more important than you."





Working late: "I need you to work late this evening." "From now on, till the end of the year, weekends have been cancelled."

I don't want to go home. I have problems at home and its easier to avoid them by working late at the office. But I am lonely and want company - and its easier to get you to work late with me, than to ask you or anyone else to keep me company elsewhere.

Why did it happen!: "How could you have..." "How could this have happened?". "I received a complaint..."

I don't really want to know the reason. I don't even want to understand. I want you and everyone else to know that it is your fault and not mine. I don't want to look bad no matter what.


You need to be... more. You need to do more. "You need to network more. You need to be out there more."

Networking is my strength and your weakness. I control this game. I will tell you who to network with. Then behind your back, I will tell those same people that I am the decision maker and you are a nobody. So they won't want to meet with you. Instead they will insist on meeting with me. This will prove that I am better than you.

And if you learn to network well, I will find something else that you don't do as well as me, and highlight that. Either way, I control this game.

"You are too..." "You are too task driven." "You are too project driven." "You are too people focused."
"You are too sensitive."

Watch how easy it is to turn your strengths into weaknesses. I will imply that anything that you can do better than me, is wrong. Manage a project well and I will say you are too project driven. YOu're a great leader? I will say you are too people driven or even worse, soft.

"You irritate me."

I can't get you to play my game, according to my strengths. I can't get you to act in a way that suits my agenda.

"You are doing it like a ..." You are managing it like a project. You are acting like a teacher.

I know and you know that the task you are working on is a project - and so it should be managed like a project. But I can halt you in your tracks by accusing you of managing it like a project. I know you are presenting new information. Teachers also present new information. By accusing you of acting like a teacher, I can unsettle you. It is such fun to watch you getting angry.



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