Ellen held up her hand, palm facing Jim. He stopped talking. She rose, walked to her door, and closed it. The conversation would probably get a little tricky, and she wanted privacy. She returned to her chair and sat.
"He'll probably ask when you'll get things back in control," she said.
"But they're in control now," Jim replied. "Oh," he continued, "the loaded question."
Ellen has just reminded Jim of a tactic he might face in an upcoming meeting — the loaded question. It's one of many nasty questions we ask each other, not to elicit information, but to gain advantage. Here's part one of a little catalog of nasty questions.
- Ambush questions
- Asked in public, either by email or by voice, in meetings or telemeetings, this is a pressure tactic, designed to place the target in a compromising position in the view of others. See "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001, for more.
- Preparation helps, but be willing to try the "reverse ambush." Leave out some important information, and when a would-be attacker tries to ambush you about it, you'll be ready.
- Leading questions
- Leading questions contain instructions as to the "correct" answer. For instance, "You'll get your monthly report to me on time this month, won't you?" is a leading question, while "When will you get me your report this month?" is open-ended.
- Leading questions are especially useful to the questioner when the questioner has organizational power over the target. But unless the "correct" answer is a fit, give an "incorrect" answer. See "Saying No: A Tutorial for Project Managers" for more.
- Loaded questions
- The loaded question
contains a presupposition
to which the target
probably wouldn't agree
- Loaded questions contain presuppositions to which the respondent probably wouldn't agree. To address the presupposition, the respondent must first decline to answer, which can look evasive, eroding the respondent's credibility. An example: "When do you think you'll be able to bring this project under control?" This presupposes that the project is out of control.
- Consider pointing out the presupposition as part of your response. See "The Power of Presuppositions," Point Lookout for September 1, 2004, for more.
- Implied accusations
- Questions can be implied accusations when they're specific enough to cause listeners to believe that there must be evidence for the accusation. For instance, when a project is late due to a late delivery by a supplier, an implied accusation might be, "Is that vendor's sales rep your brother-in-law?" The implied accusation is that nepotism is a contributing factor in the persistence of the problem.
- Don't be afraid of looking defensive when you actually are playing defense. The cost of letting things slide is even higher. Implied accusations must be dealt with firmly and immediately. Consider raising questions about the legitimacy of the issue, and the intentions of the questioner. See "Dealing with Implied Accusations," Point Lookout for January 10, 2001, for more.
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!
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Obstructionist Tactics: II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
II of a little catalog of tactics.
- Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
- Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying
it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended
to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: II
- Complex organizational processes can delay action. They can set people against one other and prevent
organizations from achieving their objectives. In this Part II of our examination of these complexities,
we look into what keeps processes complicated, and how to deal with them.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.