There is nothing more unsightly than watching co-workers crudely hack at each other competing for a better job. It is office politics at its lowest. The pros do this so smoothly that people view their promotions as inevitable when these individuals jump over their boss with only routine performance credentials.
It’s useful to think about the some of the underlying techniques. As a hypothetical example, consider these points if you were trying make such a move.
Maintain integrity about verifiable facts.
Apparent credibility is essential to succeed. It is important never to be caught distorting an objective fact.
A powerful tool is simply to ignore inconvenient facts that may not be known or verifiable by others. It is also acceptable to spin the facts, as every politician does.
Separate self-promotion activities from attacks.
Self-promotion is always accepted and is just getting the word out about accomplishments and abilities. Backstabbing in this case means attacking unfairly or in an underhand deceitful manner. Both activities have their place, but mixing them in the same conversation really calls attention to the attack.
Enforce corporate values to others.
These values may not apply to you, but enforcing them does provide a good image and, in fact, does hold some of the others in check. Few people want to acknowledge that those with extraordinary success have followed their own rules.
Cultivate independent relationships with the influential, especially in soft business settings.
Soft business settings are activities which do not have the core day to day objectives as their primary focus. Consequently, there are routine opportunities for informal information dissemination. Fact finding and exploratory committees are among the best since they tend to provide regular access. These peripheral activities, often passed up by the rank and file, are sought after by the pros.
Use information about targets appropriately, based on its content.
Information about targets has its own value
(i) Negative information can be disseminated in an objective manner.
If the facts speak for themselves, there is no need to risk integrity points by adding much subjective opinion.
(ii) Positive information value can be minimized.
The positive content can often be minimized by presenting it in a context that logically results in an unfavorable comparison. This technique has the advantage that it simultaneously acknowledges the others accomplishment while denigrating its significance. (Example: “Yes, they delivered ahead of schedule, but twice as many resources were used…..)
(iii) Disinformation is an art.
Disinformation should contain just enough fact so that the entire statement can be immediately accepted as true. There is an emotional negative taint that sticks even if the negative ambiguities are later corrected. Paraphrasing others, without attribution, is a very common and effective method
Disinformation attacks are best made when the targets are separated geographically so that they do not have the opportunity to respond immediately. The additional time both allows the disinformation to morph into doubts or rumors, as well as leaves some vagueness about the originating circumstances.
A modicum of patience is needed here. The opportunities for using information present themselves if the foundation elements are in place. There is no need to force them.
Leave no traces.
It is embarrassing that otherwise cunning adults believe that e-mails and voice mails are not treated as public information.
Of the seven techniques discussed above, none are examples of particularly egregious behavior. It is the use of them together that makes the underhanded methods successful. It’s just part of the corporate landscape and important to track.
The one exception is disinformation. Ultimately tolerating, and even rewarding purveyors of disinformation, will corrupt and cripple any organization. It’s inevitable. Plan for it.
A related post: Recognizing Incompetence Early–Pretending to be a Manager