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.
- Nonchance 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:
- Dismissive Gestures: III
- Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge
or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and
they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest
adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely?
- Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which
some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the
credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen?
- When You Feel Attacked
- Verbal attacks might be upsetting, but in creative conflicts they're usually permissible if related
to substantive matters. When verbal attacks are personal, they can be unfair and illegitimate. The ability
to recenter yourself quickly is invaluable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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