Mike froze in mid-stride. Without realizing it, he'd left that other guy in his office unattended. Sitting in open view on his desk were the financials for the quarterly summary. He turned to the woman beside him and said, "Excuse me, I'll have to show you to the elevator in a minute. Please come back with me to my office now."
When they reached his office, the man was gone. Mike looked at his desk. It appeared undisturbed, but he still felt uneasy. He'd have to report this.
Mike has just become a victim of a misdirection tactic, intended to breach the virtual wall of security at its weakest point: person-to-person interactions.
First the unknown man had entered his office, asking for Philippe, who was at a meeting. Then, almost immediately, the woman had entered asking for directions to the elevator. He'd stepped out of his office to point the way, and she'd asked him to escort her a little farther. And that was it. A perfect setup.
Most of us have information that must be protected. We must take care, for example, when disclosure would be impolitic, unethical, or dangerous. And the more sensitive the information, the more likely we are to encounter persistent and skillful seekers of that information. Some are willing to do almost anything to get what they want.
When you possess sensitive information that others desire, you might become the target of a variety of techniques of varying ethical value. Understanding those techniques, and preparing to resist them, helps protect your information, your career, and perhaps even your life.
The more sensitive the information,
the more likely we are to encounter
persistent and skillful seekers
of that informationSome seekers have extensive resources that are out of view of the target. They use these resources to wring value out of even the most unlikely bits of data. Here are some examples of resource-based methods.
- This technique involves integrating partial information from multiple targets to make a useful whole. It's effective when the targets feel that they're safe in revealing a minimal bit of data, not realizing that other targets might reveal other pieces. Indicators of this method are questions about details, such as what make of car someone owns. "Just curious" is rarely a reasonable justification for questions of this kind.
- Non-chance chance meeting
- If you have a routine, such as often going to the same place for lunch, you might "accidentally" meet the seeker, who strikes up a friendship that appears to be unrelated to your job. Disclosing information to someone you met seemingly by chance can be risky. Validate.
- False flag
- Seekers might represent themselves as law enforcement, reporters, biographers, insurance investigators, or similar information gatherers. They might display legitimate-looking credentials or other insignia. Unless you have the expertise required to validate credentials, remain skeptical.
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Dangerous Phrases
- I recently upgraded my email program to a new version that "monitors messages for offensive text."
It hasn't worked out well. But the whole affair got me to think about everyday phrases that do tend
to set people off. Here's a little catalog.
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to
interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly
common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: II
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive
than that. Sometimes people who try to extract that information use techniques based on misdirection.
Here are some of them.
- What, Why, and How
- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before
the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
- Long-Loop Conversations: Anticipation
- In virtual or global teams, conversations are sources of risk to the collaboration. Because the closed-loop
response time for exchanges can be a day or more, long-loop conversations generate misunderstanding,
toxic conflict, errors, delays, and rework. One strategy for controlling these phenomena is anticipation.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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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.