Lumpers and Splitters

I read a great article on Karl Rove, a.k.a. the ex-President’s Svengali. In the article it talked about the fact that in politics there are two kinds of people – “lumpers” and “splitters.” Lumpers try to build the biggest possible coalition to get the policies they want while splitters use wedge issues to divide and conquer the electorate.

Anyone who has wandered the corporate hallways knows that lumpers and splitters are not limited to politics, they’re alive and well in today’s workplace.

Let’s start with splitters. The classic splitter move is to be hyper-focused on the people above you in the chain of command. They’re the ones that you have to sell for you to get any new budget or more authority. So what do you do? You present your arguments to the boss in terms of an attack. You attack competitors. You attack existing initiatives. But mostly you attack your coworkers. In short, you get where you need to go by applying negative energy. I think Bob Dylan summed it up best when he sang, “…Cares not to lift you up any higher, but rather to get you down in the hole that he’s in.”

Then there are the lumpers. Consensus builders. People who subject themselves to endless meetings to try to get “buy-in.” The people who take the time to talk to the people on the fringe. But as we all know, “buy in” is expensive because it costs time and political capital. Working the halls sure sounds great, but who has the energy or inclination?

Sure it sounds nice to be a lumper (the philosophy, not the word). But the reality is that splitting is a short cuts also have costs—they’re just not as apparent.

Okay, let me make a confession here. I’ve been a splitter for most of my career. I would attack, I would criticize, I would do whatever it takes to win. I found that negative energy, just like negative campaign ads, works.

But I’ve realized there is a different way. A better way.

I learned that working the room has its benefits because the more minds you get involved the better the result. That fighting over the last piece of the pie is silly. It’s smarter to put your energy into figuring out how to make more pies. That the best ideas usually come from others.

We need more lumpers at work. Is there anyone out there ready to join the lumpers team?


“A little reciprocity goes a long way.” Malcolm Forbes

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.