Classifying threats helps us evaluate our possible choices of responses. In Part I of this little catalog of threat types, we looked at the Non-Violent Physical threat and No-Dessert-For-You — the implied withdrawal of desirable privileges or resources. The former is a direct threat; the latter is more indirect.
A direct threat is "uncloaked." It's delivered personally, without apology or qualification, and with emotional force. An indirect threat is dressed up or disguised in some way so as to insulate the threatener from any consequences of having issued a threat. Direct threats expressly or implicitly suggest harm to the target. For instance, "If you don't think you can get this done, we'll find someone who can."
In everyday conversation, we sometimes use the term threat as if it meant empty threat. That is, we think of threats as risks that are unlikely to materialize. We say, "The sky looks threatening, but I don't think it will actually rain." In this discussion, threat means something more. It?s an expression of intent to harm, and it is to be taken seriously.
A threat's degree of directness can be a valuable guide for choosing a response, because it can indicate the state of mind of the threatener. Directness can also reveal how vulnerable or powerful threateners feel, or how clever, or how resourceful they are. Most important, the directness of a threat can suggest how the threatener might respond to your response.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with direct threats.
The effectiveness of threats derives in part from fear, but direct threats rely on fear almost entirely. In a state of fear, the target is less likely to think clearly, and more likely to react reflexively. Users of direct threats seek precisely this advantage, and they're probably unaccustomed to dealing with — or lack the skill to deal with — those who are unafraid.
A threat's degree of
directness can be a
valuable guide for
choosing a responseYet, those who threaten directly aren't afraid of being caught using threats. That this feeling of invulnerability might be delusional makes no difference to targets — the threats will sting just the same.
Challenging direct threats directly is unlikely to succeed. If the threatener actually is invulnerable, direct challenges will likely fail. And even if the threatener is bluffing, he or she probably won't back down, because retreat would render future threats ineffective.
If you know that you work for someone who uses direct threats, prepare yourself. Don't wait for further direct threats to materialize. Be ready to resign your position at any time. Preparedness liberates you — it takes the sting out of threats. And if you start searching for a new job, you just might find something better.
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Confronting the Workplace Bully: I
- When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront
or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: I
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more
than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them
safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- Strategy for Targets of Verbal Abuse
- Many targets of verbal abuse at work believe that they have just two strategic options: find a new job,
or accept the abuse. In some cases, they're correct. But not always.
- Judging Others
- Being "judgmental" is a stance most people recognize as transgressing beyond widely accepted
social norms. But what's the harm in judging others? And why do so many people do it so often?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
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- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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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.