Office Politics Chat!

Chat is a well established part of our lives. WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Skype, FB Messenger, Teams,  etc. People can misuse chat to indulge into Office Politics.  Not in the true sense of the word – as in – not to violate law, but to get some political advantage. Here is how you can do it.

Office politics chat graphic showing two ladies in a large office space

Office Politics Chat Scenarios

All Office Politics Chat scenarios may not be nefarious. Even if they are, you should be aware because others can be using Office Politics chat against you.

Multiple chat windows: Get Clarification

You are on a chat / video conference with someone. You need quick clarification about something – technical specs, pricing, reference customer, etc. Just open another chat window, talk to a colleague / friend and get that information.

Multiple chat windows: Verify and Catch Lies

While on one chat with few people, someone says something. You want to cross-check that. Open another window and chat with someone else – someone who is already a part of the base chat or another unrelated person.

If you are starting a separate chat with a person who is already a part of another chat, warn that person as soon as you start the chat session. Warn that person to check which window is current before sending any message. Otherwise, it has a detrimental effect (like Replying All to a mail where you were on BCC).

Multiple Separate Chat Windows with related people

Let us say you have a dispute to resolve. You are the boss and there are three subordinates. One option is to add all of them to a common chat and then use the ideas shown above. But this alerts them beforehand. They will be more guarded when you have already put them in a common window.

Even if you start a private conversation with one of them, they will suspect that you are doing it with others as well.

Therefore, a smarter approach is to start independent chat sessions with the concerned people. Get to know their points of view, concerns, accusations, etc.

Once you have a better picture, say something like “I understand what you are saying. But I think Mr. XYZ may not have understood your point of view. Let me see if she is online. Let us start a common chat and resolve the issue.”

This can lead to faster consensus or conflict resolution.
Needless to say, this type of Office Politics chat has to be done very carefully. Writing something in the wrong window will expose you.

Office Politics Chat opportunity

Let us say you are presenting and audience asks a query for which you don’t have an answer. Usually, we will just say “I will get back to you”. But what if you could chat with someone and get it resolved immediately?

How is that possible? If you are presenting, your screen is visible to the audience on the projector. Yes. That is a problem. But the solution has been there for years.

Use Presenter View in PowerPoint.

Chat while presenting online using Lync

Same concept can be applied while presenting online using Lync.

If you are sharing your screen while doing a Lync conference, your chat will also be visible to others. Which is a bad idea.

There are two types of online presentations: You only present a PowerPoint presentation OR you are showing a demo of some application.

If it is only a presentation, upload the presentation BEFORE starting the meeting. This way, the presentation is shown from Lync server. You do NOT need to share anything from your desktop WHILE presenting. Therefore, your chat session will not be visible to others.

If you are demonstrating some application from the PC, the situation is more complex. First of all – DO NOT share the entire desktop. Only share the application in question. Chat window will not be visible so you can chat undetected. There is a disadvantage though. If there is a shared window with a non-shared window overlapping, audience will see the non-shared window as a big black rectangle. To avoid this, arrange the size of the application window such that the chat window does not overlap it.

Best option is to use a secondary monitor if you have a two monitor set-up. Use the base monitor for sharing the desktop / applications. Use the other screen for chatting.

Char order misunderstanding

Let us say A is chatting with B. If you compare the two chat windows, they will NOT be the same. Why not? Because the order in which messages reach each other can be different.

That is why, what you intended to type can be different than what was received and understood at the other end. You have no idea as to how many misunderstandings, break ups, false expectations, etc. happen because of this simple problem.

The only way to understand this concept is to chat with someone sitting next to you and observe this phenomenon.

This ambiguity can be utilized to your advantage. Suppose someone has asked two questions. You answer the second question first or vice versa.

Someone typed a question which you don’t want to answer. What do you do? Keep chatting something related to whatever the context was BEFORE the question was posted. Then you add a question or comment to change the thread of discussion, forcing the “Opponent” to respond to your thread. If you do this properly (requires practice and presence of mind), you can skirt around difficult questions.

Using chat order misunderstanding to your advantage

We want to prevent ambiguity while chatting. The best way is to keep ONE thread open at a time. DO NOT ask two questions in one sentence. Similarly, do not post multiple questions one after another.

Post one item / question / comment at one time. Let it reach resolution or logical closure. Summarize it saying – so is it now agreed that this problem X has solution Y?

Once confirmation comes from everyone, move to the next topic. Simple but powerful technique to maintain clarity and avoid misunderstanding.

Use “Oops, Wrong Window” to your advantage

It is extremely common for people to post things in the wrong window. What we don’t know is that this can be used as a feature!

While chatting, you want to suggest a radical approach, unconventional solution, a completely unrelated but potentially useful thought.

Just type that thought and then immediately say “Sorry. This was not a part of this discussion. It was meant for a different chat.”

Take a pause and then say “on second thoughts, although this happened by mistake, why not consider this possibility here as well”. As the participants are thinking that the thought apparently originated in another context, they are less resistant to it. If you had actually put forward the same thought in the base chat, they would have been more reluctant or guarded. You have made it sound like coincidence – so it becomes less of an ego problem to consider it.

Think thrice before pressing ENTER

Pressing Enter means sending a message which you have just typed. Why thrice? Because you have to do three cross-checks before sending a message:

  1. Is it the right window
  2. Are the spellings and context correct
  3. Have I read the messages which appeared in the chat window WHILE I was typing this message. Usually we don’t. Due to this, the answer to what you are typing may have already been posted. Or something you have typed may have become irrelevant already. Read the latest messages and then refine (or delete) your response.

Well, I guess I can go on and on. But you get the idea. This is just a set of common sense based techniques. Your imagination is the limit. Enjoy.

DO NOT use this for unethical or unlawful activities.

Most of these techniques can be used constructively for consensus building, investigating issues, conflict management, checking veracity of claims by others, providing instant responses during presentations and so on.

To learn more about collaboration in general, read about Microsoft Teams.


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