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:
- Deniable Intimidation
- Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators
succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding
their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.
- 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.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: I
- Most meetings have Chairs or "leads." Although the expression that the Chair "owns"
the meeting is usually innocent shorthand, some Chairs actually believe that they own the meeting. This
view is almost entirely destructive. What are the consequences of this attitude, and what can we do about it?
- Rapid-Fire Attacks
- Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question,
or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being
attacked. What can you do?
- Seventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
- Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because
our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember
in the moment.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.