As Tim listed the people who would be on the committee, Cora expected to hear her name. When she didn't, she was stunned. She somehow got through the rest of the meeting without revealing the storm brewing inside her, and lingered at the end to talk to Tim. "I noticed," she said.
"I thought you might. Let's walk back to my office."
Fortunately, it was a short walk. They entered Tim's office, he closed the door, and they sat.
"Part of the problem is that you give the impression that you think that Marigold will fail," he began.
"It will, if we don't replace Bellamy and…" He stopped her.
"Hear me out. There's more. I actually want that viewpoint represented, but I have concerns about how you would go about it. I'll include you on three conditions. First, that we don't go into it with an assumption of failure. Second, that our conversations are two-way with feedback possible on both sides. And finally, that all ideas are listened to and if an idea is deemed unworkable or unusable, that perspective is not a reflection on the person. We move on and get the job done without holding grudges, or clamming up."
Cora sat silently, stung.
Tim's three conditions subtly attacked Cora without directly confronting her with an issue. If she accepted the conditions, she might have seemed to be admitting fault. And if she confronted Tim, she might have seemed defensive, which would have strengthened the third implied accusation. Here are the three implied accusations.
- Cora believes that the project will fail.
- The word Defending against implied
accusations is a
losing strategy"two-way" suggests that there has been some "one-way" feedback. Tim is suggesting that Cora would insist on "one-way" feedback — presumably from Cora to Tim.
- Though Cora and Tim had had differences of opinion, there had been no grudges or "clamming up," no attacks or "reflections," but Tim was accusing Cora of all these things. This accusation protects the attack that lies within the message itself. By attacking Cora for attacking, Tim might be trying to constrain her not to expose his tactics.
Fortunately, Cora could choose not to participate. The next day, after much deep thought, she told Tim:
"I certainly don't believe that Marigold will fail. I don't know what I might have said that you might have used to conclude that, but I do not believe that it will fail. The committee has my full support. And given the obvious difficulty that we have communicating, I think it best that I not participate for the time being.
"I do hear you though, and I find your three requirements completely reasonable for anyone on any team. I'm open to finding whatever new is needed so that we might have more choices together in the future, and as time passes, I guess we'll see what happens."
Since full participation on the committee wasn't a real option, Cora reasoned that giving it up cost her nothing. By bowing out, she chose the high road. Within an hour Tim phoned her, seeking to work out their "communication problem" using a third party mediator.
Implied accusations make us defensive, which is almost always a bad place to be. Instead of defending, look for an unexpected response that puts you on the high ground — always a more comfortable place to be. And the view is better, too. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
Implied accusations can also come in the form of questions. See "Nasty Questions: I," Point Lookout for November 8, 2006, for more.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
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- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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