Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 20;   May 18, 2011: How to Create Distrust

How to Create Distrust

by

A trusting environment is critical to high performance. That's why it's important to recognize behaviors that erode trust in others. Here's a little catalog of methods people use — intentionally or not — to create distrust.
A political cartoon from the 1840 U.S. Presidential campaign

A political cartoon from the 1840 U.S. Presidential campaign, which offers several illustrations of the techniques described here. View a larger image. The description of the cartoon by the U.S. Library of Congress reads, in part: "A Whig campaign print, showing William Henry Harrison greeting a wounded veteran before a log cabin by a river. A coonskin is tacked to the side of the cabin, two barrels of hard cider stand by, and a farmer ploughs a field in the distance. The text below the image describes the scene: This Log Cabin 'was the first building erected on the North Bend of the beautiful Ohio River, with the barrel of cider outside and the door always open to the traveller.'" In the campaign, between the Whigs and Democrats, Democrats cast Harrison as provincial and out of touch — an old man who would rather "sit in his log cabin drinking hard cider" than attend to the duties of office. This was a reference to Harrison's having retired to his farm after his defeat in the campaign of 1836. In effect, Democrats were rewriting history by depicting Harrison's dignified retirement as a retreat into alcoholism. In response, Harrison and his vice presidential running-mate, John Tyler, adopted the log cabin and hard cider as campaign symbols to appeal to the common man, as depicted in the cartoon. It was in this campaign that the Whigs used the memorable slogan, "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Tippecanoe was a nickname of Harrison, referring to a military victory he crafted as a general in 1811. Finally, to create distrust of the Democrats, the Whigs, in reference to the Panic of 1837 under the Democratic incumbent President Martin van Buren, took to referring to the President as "Van Ruin." Photo courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress American cartoon print filing series.

Creating distrust in oneself is easy — tell a few lies, originate a few nasty rumors, dishonor your commitments, and then get caught at it. But creating distrust in others — and getting away with it — takes real talent, because the obvious ploys often backfire. For instance, telling a lie about someone else might work for a while, but people might someday learn the truth, and when they do, they often realize where the lie came from.A political cartoon from the 1840 U.S. Presidential campaign

To give people reasons to distrust someone else, and get away with it, you must be in the right place, with the right set of tools, and use a little bit of cleverness.

This essay isn't intended as a handbook for the ruthless, but it's written that way for clarity. I hope that when you sense yourself beginning to distrust someone, you'll suspend judgment until after you determine whether anyone is using any of these techniques, or anything similar. With that cautionary note, here are some methods for creating distrust of someone else. We'll call the target Tom.

Withhold all good news
Repeating any good news about Tom, his accomplishments, or his abilities undermines your goal. Never give your target anything of value for free.
Raise questions
Although questions aren't actually accusations, and therefore need no evidence, they can nevertheless have the effect of accusations. At every opportunity, raise questions about Tom's talents, his situation, his past, his intentions, or his prospects. If opportunities to raise questions don't arise, create some.
Elevate competitors
If any others can do what Tom can do, extol their capabilities. Elevating potential substitutes makes people comfortable with Tom's eventual disappearance or exclusion. Tom becomes less important.
Characterize past events
Minimize Tom's past accomplishments by re-interpreting or inventing history. The elements of the past most suitable for this purpose are those that reside mostly in people's memories, with a minimum of factual evidence to contradict your assertions.
Exploit repetition
Repeat your Although questions aren't actually
accusations, and therefore need no
evidence, they can nevertheless
have the effect of accusations
questions about Tom, your assertions about his past, and your praise for his competitors at every opportunity. People need frequent reminding and re-enforcement before they can truly internalize your misrepresentations.
Craft a memorable slur
Build a tight connection between the idea of Tom and reasons for distrusting him. A crisp, short slur that captures one or more of Tom's supposed negative attributes makes your campaign "sticky."
Elevate the tempo
Rapid execution of multiple techniques tends to overload Tom's ability to respond with defensive tactics. High tempo also saturates the audience's ability to process your charges and Tom's defenses. After all, everyone does have other things to do.

Most important, limit the effectiveness of Tom's defenses by refuting them in advance. Accuse him of harboring ill will towards you, and characterize his responses as evidence of his vengefulness and defensiveness. That should finish him off. Trust me. Go to top Top  Next issue: Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk  Next Issue

See "When Over-Delivering Makes Trouble," Point Lookout for December 5, 2012, for an additional behavior that erodes trust.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenAuSXDiBhGSMPMEbxner@ChacxjxmGLXqURSCOHNqoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Freeway damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta, California, EarthquakeManaging Pressure: The Unexpected
When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure.
Damage to the Interstate 10 Twin Bridge across Lake PontchartrainManaging Risk Revision
Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen. But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
Washington Irving, American author, 1783-1859Extrasensory Deception: I
Negotiation skills are increasingly essential in problem-solving workplaces. When incentives are strong, or pressure is high, deception is tempting. Here are some of the deceptions popular among negotiators.
President George W. Bush and President Vladimir PutinI've Got Your Number, Pal
Recent research has uncovered a human tendency — possibly universal — to believe that we know others better than others know them, and that we know ourselves better than others know themselves. These beliefs, rarely acknowledged and often wrong, are at the root of many a toxic conflict of long standing.
A forest fireCultural Indicators of Political Risk
Because of fire risk, hiking in dry forests during dry seasons can be dangerous. In the forest, we stay safe from fire if we attend to the indicators of fire risk. In the workplace, do you know the indicators of political risk?

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendWcAaLCLvPNomhjgner@ChacxOsuYIPGVvMZWwnRoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.