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.
Seekers have other techniques available, too. We'll look at some misdirection-based methods next time. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- Email Antics: IV
- Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a real time waster. Yet much of the problem results from
our own actions. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- Deliver the Headline First
- When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes
frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That
might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the
headline first, and then offer the details.
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: I
- When we ask each other questions, the answers aren't always what we seek. Sometimes the behavior of
the respondent is what matters. Here are some techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- Reframing Revision Resentment: II
- When we're required to revise something previously produced — prose, designs, software, whatever,
we sometimes experience frustration with those requiring the revisions. Here are some alternative perspectives
that can be helpful.
See also Effective Communication at Work and Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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