Ellen held up her hand, palm facing Jim. He stopped talking. She rose, walked to her door, and closed it. The conversation would probably get a little tricky, and she wanted privacy. She returned to her chair and sat.
"He'll probably ask when you'll get things back in control," she said.
"But they're in control now," Jim replied. "Oh," he continued, "the loaded question."
Ellen has just reminded Jim of a tactic he might face in an upcoming meeting — the loaded question. It's one of many nasty questions we ask each other, not to elicit information, but to gain advantage. Here's part one of a little catalog of nasty questions.
- Ambush questions
- Asked in public, either by email or by voice, in meetings or telemeetings, this is a pressure tactic, designed to place the target in a compromising position in the view of others. See "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001, for more.
- Preparation helps, but be willing to try the "reverse ambush." Leave out some important information, and when a would-be attacker tries to ambush you about it, you'll be ready.
- Leading questions
- Leading questions contain instructions as to the "correct" answer. For instance, "You'll get your monthly report to me on time this month, won't you?" is a leading question, while "When will you get me your report this month?" is open-ended.
- Leading questions are especially useful to the questioner when the questioner has organizational power over the target. But unless the "correct" answer is a fit, give an "incorrect" answer. See "Saying No: A Tutorial for Project Managers" for more.
- Loaded questions
- The loaded question
contains a presupposition
to which the target
probably wouldn't agree
- Loaded questions contain presuppositions to which the respondent probably wouldn't agree. To address the presupposition, the respondent must first decline to answer, which can look evasive, eroding the respondent's credibility. An example: "When do you think you'll be able to bring this project under control?" This presupposes that the project is out of control.
- Consider pointing out the presupposition as part of your response. See "The Power of Presuppositions," Point Lookout for September 1, 2004, for more.
- Implied accusations
- Questions can be implied accusations when they're specific enough to cause listeners to believe that there must be evidence for the accusation. For instance, when a project is late due to a late delivery by a supplier, an implied accusation might be, "Is that vendor's sales rep your brother-in-law?" The implied accusation is that nepotism is a contributing factor in the persistence of the problem.
- Don't be afraid of looking defensive when you actually are playing defense. The cost of letting things slide is even higher. Implied accusations must be dealt with firmly and immediately. Consider raising questions about the legitimacy of the issue, and the intentions of the questioner. See "Dealing with Implied Accusations," Point Lookout for January 10, 2001, for more.
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!
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Hostile Collaborations
- Sometimes collaboration with people we hold in low regard can be valuable. If we enter a hostile collaboration
without first accepting both the hostility and the value, we might sabotage it outside our awareness,
and that can render the effort worthless — or worse. What are the dynamics of hostile collaborations,
and how can we do them well?
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Informal
- Understanding Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found
in organizations. Here's Part II of a little catalog of authority, emphasizing informal authority.
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- Managing Non-Content Risks: I
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with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less
attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets
- Suppressing Dissent: I
- In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive
act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 24: Understanding Delegation
- It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
- And on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
- The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.