Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 47;   November 25, 2015: Suppressing Dissent: I

Suppressing Dissent: I

by

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.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007), historian of American liberalism, speechwriter and adviser to Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson II, and special assistant to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. Although he participated in the deliberations leading up to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, he was a dissenter. Aware that President Kennedy sought unanimity for whatever the group decided, Schlesinger expressed his dissent in memos to the President, rather than aloud in the presence of the full group. He came eventually to regret his silence. In this case, the group leader, the President, did not act overtly to suppress dissent. Rather, he failed to encourage dissent — to create an environment safe enough to enable expression of diverse opinions. Photo ca. 1961-1963 by the United States Information Service available at Wikimedia Commons.

Loyal dissent by members of groups or teams is a valuable resource. Whether in mission-oriented teams or long-lived functional groups, dissent gives the group access to information, intuition, and perspectives that enable it to achieve high performance while avoiding dangerous blunders. But some groups and leaders regard dissent — even loyal dissent — as disloyal. They adopt attitudes and take actions that they hope will quell current objections and prevent future "complaints" as well.

Paradoxically, suppressing dissent can create threats to group safety and performance more significant than any dissent can do. Only when group members and leaders can recognize dissent suppression tactics can they create and maintain environments that allow safe expression of loyal dissent.

Suppressing dissent can entail acts either seen or unseen from any given perspective. The four most relevant perspectives are Leader, Dissenter, non-Leader Suppressor, and Bystander. A thorough exploration would include all four perspectives, but for brevity, let's focus on the Leader's perspective as an example. Here are some tactics Leaders use to suppress dissent.

Terminating, reassigning, or ejecting
Leaders who have sufficient organizational power can terminate Dissenters. Leaders who lack the power to terminate can sometimes arrange for reassignment, removal, or transfer. These are all drastic moves, often seen as heavy-handed, and they can in some cases create legal liability. But they are effective, and they convey clear signals to other group members that dissent is unwelcome.
Humiliating the Dissenter
Any means Any means of humiliating the
Dissenter, whether or not related
to the substance of the dissent,
erodes the Dissenter's credibility
of humiliating the Dissenter, whether or not related to the substance of the dissent, erodes the Dissenter's credibility. By creating fear of similar treatment, humiliation also inhibits others from joining the dissent, or offering unrelated dissents of their own on other matters.
Disinforming the Dissenter
By providing the Dissenter with misinformation, directly or indirectly, the Leader creates opportunities to discredit the Dissenter. For example, misinforming the Dissenter about a deadline can cause the Dissenter to be unprepared. If the disinformation pertains to the substance of the dissent, the Dissenter, misled, might make public assertions that the Leader can refute later, in potentially embarrassing contexts.
Disinforming others
By passing misinformation to others the Leader can create "facts" that affect the image and reputation of the Dissenter. Disinformation of this kind usually consists of assertions about the character, capabilities, or past performance of the Dissenter. By creating doubts about the Dissenter, the Leader can create doubts about the substance of the Dissenter's positions.
Abusing appointment power
Some Leaders have authority to assign tasks to group members, or to otherwise appoint members to teams or committees. Leaders can use this power to assign desirable appointments to non-Dissenters, or confer undesirable appointments upon Dissenters, often announcing them as faits accomplis, giving Dissenters no opportunity to express their preferences or seek alternative assignments. Such "misappointments" are often unethical, because they allocate responsibility not on the basis of merit or ability, but instead for purposes of retribution.

In Part II we'll look at suppressing dissent in meetings. That is, unless you object. Next in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Suppressing Dissent: II  Next Issue

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? rbrenKuAsgQOzUFrVPNjFner@ChaceoidXLKUdNNTzRXpoCanyon.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 Devious Political Tactics:

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
Allied leaders at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
J. R. R. Tolkien (aged 24) in army uniform. Photograph taken in 1916.Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: I
Although skip-level interviews have their place, they can be dangerous, explosive, and harmful to the organization. What are the dangers?
Nemesis by Albrecht DurerSome Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: III
Skip-level interviews — dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor — can be hazardous. Here's Part III of a little catalog of the hazards, emphasizing subordinate-initiated skip-level interviews.
Two varieties of "Stupid" buttonsPushing the "Stupid" Button
Some people know exactly how to lead others to feel ignorant or unintelligent. Here's a little catalog of tactics to watch for.

See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenoPiJkgdoUHvXdfpcner@ChacZyeTTtHkKAxyziLIoCanyon.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

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.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. 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
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
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.