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In seeking change, we want allies – ideally having everyone on our team firmly on our side.

But entrepreneur Seth Godin argues change happens more efficiently when we have worthy adversaries as well as useful allies.

Those adversaries need not be individuals. In some cases they’re the status quo or a system. Godin notes that in the early days of Apple, founder Steve Jobs chose Microsoft as his adversary.

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“An adversary focuses the mission, but it also gives agency and leverage to the opponent. It helps to have accomplices, leverage and a focus for the long haul as well,” he advises in his blog.

Taking that allies-adversaries duality further into the realm of office politics, Andy Yap, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at INSEAD, urges you to prepare what he calls a power map when you are pushing an initiative. It starts with these five questions:

  • Players: Who are the key people in this situation?
  • Objectives: What are your key objectives and those of the other parties?
  • Weight: How much power do each of you have?
  • Enemies and allies: Who are your enemies and who are your allies?
  • Relationships: How are the relationships between the various players?

In considering those relationships, Yap reminds you to mull over whether your colleagues have known allies or enemies. “As the old saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he writes on the INSEAD website.

The next step is the map itself, a basic matrix with four quadrants to which you assign the others you are dealing with based on how supportive they are of your goal and how much power – formal and informal – they have.

Power is not just seniority, Yap notes. An executive assistant to the boss can wield great influence, for example. “Others may base their power on their expertise, their ability to read people or even their connections with powerful others,” he says.

Your friends and foes will wind up in these four classifications:

  • Grassroots supporters: These folks strongly support your goals but have little power.
  • Low-power resisters: They aren’t supportive of your aims, but they also lack much power.
  • Powerful resisters: These are your biggest opponents; they have significant power and don’t like what you’re doing.
  • Powerful supporters: These are your strongest allies because they are highly supportive of your goals and have significant power.

Just reading those descriptions about each person can help to clarify matters. But Yap asks you to plot everyone on a graph according to their degree of power and support, and then also place yourself in the picture. You’re obviously strongly supportive of the initiative you’re proposing, but where are you in terms of organizational power?

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Now trace lines marking the relationship you have with the other players as well as the relationships they have with each other. He suggests using traffic-light colours to delineate those relationships: Green for a positive relationship, yellow for neutral and red for danger. Keep in mind that “yellow” relationships will not necessarily be static – those connections have the potential to go either way.

Don’t get hung up about getting the map perfectly right. It’s not exact and the situation is dynamic, likely to change. The idea is to outline more clearly how the people are arranged and related so you can plan your next steps strategically rather than moving ahead blindly.

Quick hits

  • The longer it takes to make a stressful decision, the more the stress will build, advises executive coach Dan Rockwell. He urges you to schedule decisions tightly. In the morning, gather information, and in the afternoon, invite input from others. Give the information a night to percolate, and the next morning, make your decision. Sit with the decision for an hour or two before you inform others.
  • Practice for telephone job interviews. The Get Five career management company team suggests using your own voicemail. Call yourself from another phone, talk about yourself and your interest in the job, and then listen to the recording to hear how you come across. Then try again and again, improving your phone presentation skills.
  • Emojis in marketing email subject lines backfire. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group found that emojis increase the negative sentiment towards the email by 26 per cent and don’t increase the chances of the missive being opened.
  • The five worst buzzwords of 2020, according to Buzzsaw, are, in order: Curated, content, disambiguate (which means to remove uncertainty), human capital and the new normal.
  • If you use Gmail, the new Zoom for Gmail or Zoom for G Suite add-ons will put a camera icon on your e-mail screen, allowing you to schedule a video meeting effortlessly.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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