Have you ever felt as if you were being framed? Have you been accused falsely of organizational negligence or evil-doing by someone who knows well that the accusation is false? Last time we explored how framers use communications to construct frames. Here are some other strategies framers use.
- Using communication through multiple channels, framers ask about and report various incidents, slanting their reports to serve their aims. They might use face-to-face communication, telephone, and the entire array of electronic formats, but they prefer private and unrecorded channels, because of the risk of having their misrepresentations revealed. They portray their targets as intentional, hypocritical, or malicious; their allies as enthusiastic, honest, and public; and themselves as innocent, pure, and sympathetic.
- As the target, you can't control how the framer uses spin, but you can control what you say and do. When you have to speak about topics that are already in play, speak before multiple witnesses, on the record. Anticipate what might be spun, and explicitly close those opportunities. For instance, if you're accused of assassinating President Lincoln, you can say, "Yes, in the third grade, I did learn that Lincoln was assassinated 120 years before I was born. A sad day."
- Misled proxies
- Sometimes framers enlist proxies to construct frames. Some proxies have the same goals as the framer, but often they're simply misled by the framers' fabrications.
- Targets understandably tend to feel attacked and hurt when people repeat false accusations. Because some attackers are misled, targets fare better when they distinguish between the misled and the malevolent. Asking clarifying questions is one approach. For instance, in private: "Are you aware that I wasn't even born when Lincoln was assassinated?" When you can expose misleading statements of the framer, you disable the proxies, and perhaps rescue your relationships. Proxies who exhibit little interest in facts are probably internally motivated, rather than misled.
- Multiple-front assaults
- Sophisticated framers To targets, countering a frame
can feel like blowing out a
cakeful of trick birthday candlesknow that spin and fabrication are not durable. To maintain the frame, they work several fronts simultaneously, possibly with different parts of the audience. If audience segments interact weakly, as one might find in a dispersed or global organization, the framer can deploy the same fabrication at different times in different audience segments. To targets, this can feel like a game of whac-a-mole, or like blowing out a cakeful of trick birthday candles.
- Counter the multiple-front assault with communication. Do what you can to open communications, becoming visible to all audience segments. Form personal relationships with important members of the audience. Create a sense that "My goodness, Linda couldn't possibly have said that."
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For a discussion of the connection between false accusations and confirmation bias, see "Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part I," Point Lookout for November 23, 2011.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- 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.
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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.
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.