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False opportunities appear to be chances to contribute or achieve. They aren't.
Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.
Jordan looked up to see Stephanie standing in his doorway. She didn't look happy. With her eyes, she asked him for some time. Jordan rolled over towards his table and pointed to a chair, palm up. Stephanie closed the door, set down her water bottle and slowly sat.
"Bad day," she began. "Marigold might be shelved."
Jordan had no words. Stephanie had created Marigold, and she'd hoped for a ride on its success. Marigold was a great idea, and she certainly deserved recognition. "I don't understand," he said. "Why?"
Stephanie stared at her water bottle. "Emmons mumbled something about new priorities from Diamond Square, that's all I know."
"But he must have known," said Jordan. "Why would he give you Marigold only to shut it down a month later?"
Lots of possibilities. Stephanie's predicament could be the result of having accepted a false opportunity. A false opportunity is a tactic some managers use to manipulate subordinates or to build empires. Here are some kinds of false opportunities.
- The rhinestone
- It glitters, but it's worthless. A rhinestone looks like an opportunity, but the grantor can undermine it in important ways: offering it too late; providing insufficient resources; requiring impossibly short completion dates or impossible amounts of work; or failing to remove conflicting demands.
- The diversion
- The offer might be less desirable than another opportunity that's out of your awareness or isn't yet announced. Once you accept, you're tied up, and unavailable for the really good one that comes along.
- The dead end
- It looks like an opportunity, but it's under threat of material change, such as reorganization, acquisition or downsizing; or a new high-level manager might be about to appear — one who's hostile to the opportunity; or a related business line is about to be sold off or shut down; or a competitive project is about to begin.
- The foray
- The opportunity might be an attempt to infringe on the turf of another, using you as a pawn. Sometimes the Foray is covert. If the project works, the grantor might go public, claiming an achievement. If it fails, it fails secretly. If it's discovered before completion, you might be left exposed, and bear some or all of the responsibility for the infringement.
- Some opportunities serve only to occupy the subordinate. Even if the project is successful, it will likely be shelved. This kind of "opportunity" is most often secret, because it could lead to demands from others for support for their own preferred opportunities.
You don't have to accept the False Opportunity when it appears — you can consider it a request for a favor, and ask for something in exchange before you accept. Remember to be careful what you ask for.
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