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:
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- Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project
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- They Just Don't Understand
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The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: 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? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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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.