It might go against your beliefs. It might seem reprehensible. It might seem like hitting below the belt. But if you let your opponent fire the first shot, you'll suffer as a result.
Several years ago, I attended a seminar on the subject of protecting yourself in the event of a personal, physical attack. What should you do? How to react? These were the things the seminar sought to determine. Then the instructor attempted to train all of us in the appropriate response. One of the things that really stuck with me was the realization that the person who strikes the first devestating blow in a fight, will end up "winning" 95% of the time.
It doesn't work like the movies, folks. A punch to the throat, a broken nose, a fractured elbow, and you're opponent is virtually finished. As long as you follow up the initial blow with the appropriate force, you will prevail.
Things in business work much the same. If you are intent upon beating an opponent in a political game -- one where you are locked into a "career-survival" type struggle -- you need to be willing to strike the first heavy blow. Recognize you'll probably be hurt in the process, but play to win and survive -- attack first.
I know, it doesn't sound nice. And truth be told, I had trouble following this advice, myself. But the one who launches their missles first, is much more likely to prevail in any conflict. The first significant blow...the first devestating blow...is where the battle is won or lost.
I once had a major pricing conflict a peer, one where I was purchasing services from his business, and they were a significant part of my costs. We disagreed on a price increase he attempted to cram down my throat, and my opponent and I exchange "sizing up" blows via emails. In the last email of the exchange, I copied the company CFO so that he could see the unprofessional behavior of my opponent, and how I was trying to be "fair" in comparison. The tactic worked perfectly when the peer and I couldn't settle the dispute, and had to appeal to a higher power. My pre-emptive strike (a simple blind copy of the most damning of my opponent's communications), helped me to eventually prevail in the dispute. I was bringing the CFO in on my side because of the peer's "over the top" behavior.
It worked. But it did seem a bit of a "dirty trick". On the other hand, had my opponent not been excessively sarcastic and insulting, my maneuver wouldn't have been so effective.
Firing the first shot gives you a strategic political advantage over your opponent, but just as is true in the physical world, you need to be prepared to follow it up and take the fight to completion.
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS (released 7/19/12)