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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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of
- Are You a Fender?
- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
- Political Framing: Communications
- In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual
by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for
reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.
- Before You Blow the Whistle: I
- When organizations know that they've done something they shouldn't have, or they haven't done something
they should have, they often try to conceal the bad news. When dealing with whistleblowers, they can
be especially ruthless.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion,
but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 19: I Don't Understand: II
- Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful? Available here and by RSS on June 19.
- And on June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
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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.