In person-to-person communication, patterns of all kinds abound, but templates are special. They're widely used within the culture, and cultural norms re-enforce them. For instance, in my culture, when I hold out my right hand to someone and say, "Hello, I'm Rick Brenner," a very common response is to take my hand and say, "Hello, I'm George Bush." Well, only if George Bush is your actual name — otherwise most of us would expect to hear your name.
Did you find the above example a wee bit humorous? If you did, perhaps you expected the person's actual name, not "George Bush." The strength of that expectation reflects the strength of this template.
Although templates aren't problematic in themselves, how we use them can be, if we use them to manipulate others, or if we reflexively adopt an offered template. In this Part I, I'll examine how we use templates to manipulate others. In Part II, we'll look into some more toxic examples.
In the workplace, some common manipulative uses of templates are persuasion, controlling others' emotions, and stifling criticism.
- Persuasion: "You wouldn't want us to do that, now would you?"
- This template makes objection difficult. It rests on a previously constructed patently unappealing scenario, which isn't usually what the anticipated objection was about.
- To respond to this tactic, try replying in the form, "I certainly would not, but I think we have other options. I'd like to explore them."
- Controlling others' emotions: "Now, now, no need to get so hot under the collar about this."
- Although templates aren't
problematic in themselves,
how we use them can be
- Here the manipulator tries to force a denial of the form "I am not angry," which usually makes the denier look foolish. Remaining cool at all times does help, but even that won't prevent some manipulators from using this template.
- To respond, step out of the template. Humor is especially effective, because it demonstrates that your emotions are under control. For example, if you aren't wearing a collar, try, "But I'm not wearing a collar, or at least, I wasn't when I walked in here."
- Stifling criticism: "Be reasonable; trust me on this."
- In this template the manipulator attempts to equate disagreement with distrust. Since most of us are reluctant to express distrust, expressing disagreement is difficult within this template.
- Reject the template: "I do trust you. I also disagree with you. It's because I trust you that I hope you'll want to explore our disagreement."
The strength, variety, and prevalence of templates vary with culture and microculture. Within cultures, there are variations with social status and gender. And although a template is present in your culture, you might not ever use it. Do you see any templates in use in your own life? Which ones do you use yourself? Top Next Issue
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!
For more on Communication Templates, including some that are even more problematic, see "Communication Templates: II," Point Lookout for February 13, 2008.
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes
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- Cognitive Biases and Influence: I
- The techniques of influence include inadvertent — and not-so-inadvertent — uses of cognitive
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- 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.
- Naming Ideas
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- Coming June 20: Managing Dissent Risk
- In group decision making, dissent risk is the risk that dissents about important decisions will be rejected without due consideration. As a result, group decision quality can suffer, and some groups will actually eject dissenters. How can we manage dissent risk? Available here and by RSS on June 20.
- And on June 27: 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? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
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