Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 2;   January 10, 2001: Dealing with Implied Accusations

Dealing with Implied Accusations

by

Some people use rhetorical tricks that push our buttons, which makes choosing wisely difficult. Implied accusations make us defensive, which is almost always a bad place to be. What other choices do we have?

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.

Blaming and placating"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.

Failure
Cora believes that the project will fail.
Feedback
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.
Grudges
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. Go to top Top  Next issue: When Your Boss Asks You to Do Something Unethical  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict 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:

Hard at WorkThe Tweaking CC
When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by exposing embarrassing information.
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Many of us are experts in risk analysis and risk management. Even the nonspecialists among us have developed considerable skill in anticipating troubles and preparing plans for dealing with them. When these habits of thought leak into our personal lives, we pay a high price.
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Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble.
Henny Youngman in 1957Quips That Work at Work: I
Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered, does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference?
An informal meeting geometryMake Suggestions Privately
Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk.

See also Emotions at Work and Rhetorical Fallacies for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerComing October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
An owl of undetermined speciesAnd on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.

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