The Trojan Candidate
"I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."
OK, I think I've figured out why I don't like Barack Obama. If you recall, before the Iowa Caucuses, I mentioned that he looked and sounded really presidential, but there was just something about him that my gut said, "No way!"
Well, if his "you're likeable enough" comment to Hillary during the New Hampshire debate didn't turn my stomach, last night's South Carolina "whine with cheese" certainly did. Mind you, I'm not arguing against the validity of the comment. The Clinton machine is at top speed. Both Hillary and Bill are creating a full-court press after being blindsided by Obama three weeks ago. And, as is unfortunately normal in politics, facts and records are being distorted to make Barack look bad.
But come on... Obama is complaining about a "home court advantage" that he knew existed between the Clintons before he got into this race. Hillary is the closest thing to an incumbent in this election, so for him to level that kind of comment seems petty at best.
But this post isn't really about national politics. I'm using it to demonstrate a phenomenon of office politics... something I like to call the "Trojan Horse/Sacrificial Lamb" approach. It's the office politics approach to using a hit man, and it is especially common with bullies in the work place. Why dirty your own hands when you can get somebody else to do it? I used to work for a consulting firm that was notorious for hiding the accountability of attacks among it's owners/management staff. If you think you might be the victim of this approach, here are some things to look out for:
- Relationship with "attacker" - does this person have a valid reason to attack you? Have they ever?
- "Attacker's" relationships - does this person have relationships with people whom you consider opponents? How close are the relationships?
- Logic - Does the attack make sense? Did you do something (inadvertently or on purpose) to warrant the attack?
- Outcome - What do you stand to lose and what does your attacker stand to gain?
If you think the attacker may be working on somebody else's behalf, don't fall into the shoot the messenger mode. That is probably the outcome the mastermind is after. You two go on the attack of each other while the master-mind rises above the fray. This kind of relationship requires you to do a little more investigating. Keep calm about the attack. If you cannot stay calm while the attack is going on, try to gain some time before you engage the attacker. Ask a lot of questions to gain understanding. Ask the right kinds of questions, and the "Trojan Horse" generally tips his hand. Talk to other people who may be involved in the conflict to gain a more objective view.
Remember: your goal initially may not be to survive the attack as much as it is to figure out who or what is really behind the attack. This should be the case regardless of whether your attacker is acting alone or on behalf of another. After all, one of the key steps of office politics is to understand the players, their motives, and the environment.
I do have to give Obama credit for one thing last night: he called their strategy for what it was (even if his wording and approach could have used some finesse).