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:
- The Costs of Threats
- Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats
to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships,
and create an atmosphere of fear.
- 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.
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
- Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict
simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: I
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, you probably want the bullying to end. If you've ever been
the target of a workplace bully, you probably remember wanting it to end. But how it ends can be more
important than whether or when it ends.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: II
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some
guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.