When we converse, in meetings, in hallways or cramped into those tiny seats in coach class, we sometimes want to change the subject. Or maybe we usually want to change the subject. And sometimes we want to stick to the subject, when someone else doesn't. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics we use to change the subject, and some tactics for preventing the change.
- Ignoring (or pretending not to hear) what your partner said
- When you have the "conversational ball," people assume that you'll continue with the current thread. Pretending to be unaware of the thread frees you to change the subject. This is especially useful when the latest contribution was an uncomfortable question.
- Sometimes, when people haven't yet agreed on the subject, this tactic is actually a way of negotiating the subject. It's also used in reactive mode, to resist the attempts of others to change the subject.
- When the distribution of power among the participants is fairly uniform, you can defeat this tactic by politely but firmly repeating what was apparently missed. Humor helps. But when your partner has a power advantage, resisting can be risky, because your partner almost certainly has more effective tools available.
- Offers of food or drink — one of many distraction tactics — are sometimes used to divert a partner who has targeted a weakness, or to break a partner's momentum. Other useful distractions:
- Pretending to receive a mobile phone call. Most people assume that someone who suddenly answers a mobile phone that wasn't "ringing," is answering a phone that had been set to "vibrate." But that's an assumption. The call might be real — or not.
- Summoning a server. This distraction is useful in restaurants, at parties, waiting for parking attendants, or whenever servers are present.
- If your attention is required by the distraction, as it might be in the case of a summoned waiter, waitress, or wine steward, resisting the distraction can appear to be rude. Nevertheless, try to maintain your hold on the conversational thread. When the distraction ends, steer the conversation back to your topic of choice.
- Mutual agreement
- Sometimes, we seek a change of subject by mutual agreement. This is an important Offers of food or drink
are sometimes nothing
more than diversionspart of orderly discourse. The key phrases to use are permission-seeking: "Can we look at something else for a moment?" or "I have another matter I'd like to discuss…"
- Changing subjects by agreement can be (paradoxically) contentious, especially if the parties have an asymmetric power relationship, when the "agreement" is achieved by implicit coercion.
- But whether or not coercion is involved, it's usually wise to accede to the request — if you ever want others to honor your own requests.
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!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
- Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators
are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some
tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.
- Selling Uphill: The Pitch
- Whether you're a CEO or a project champion, you occasionally have to persuade decision-makers who have
some kind of power over you. What do they look for? What are the key elements of an effective pitch?
What does it take to Persuade Power?
- The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
- Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why
didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
- Indicators of Lock-In: II
- When a group of decision makers "locks in" on a choice, they can persist in that course even
when others have concluded that the choice is folly. Here's Part II of a set of indicators of lock-in.
- Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our
notice. Here are five examples.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.