Creating distrust in oneself is easy — tell a few lies, originate a few nasty rumors, dishonor your commitments, and then get caught at it. But creating distrust in others — and getting away with it — takes real talent, because the obvious ploys often backfire. For instance, telling a lie about someone else might work for a while, but people might someday learn the truth, and when they do, they often realize where the lie came from.
To give people reasons to distrust someone else, and get away with it, you must be in the right place, with the right set of tools, and use a little bit of cleverness.
This essay isn't intended as a handbook for the ruthless, but it's written that way for clarity. I hope that when you sense yourself beginning to distrust someone, you'll suspend judgment until after you determine whether anyone is using any of these techniques, or anything similar. With that cautionary note, here are some methods for creating distrust of someone else. We'll call the target Tom.
- Withhold all good news
- Repeating any good news about Tom, his accomplishments, or his abilities undermines your goal. Never give your target anything of value for free.
- Raise questions
- Although questions aren't actually accusations, and therefore need no evidence, they can nevertheless have the effect of accusations. At every opportunity, raise questions about Tom's talents, his situation, his past, his intentions, or his prospects. If opportunities to raise questions don't arise, create some.
- Elevate competitors
- If any others can do what Tom can do, extol their capabilities. Elevating potential substitutes makes people comfortable with Tom's eventual disappearance or exclusion. Tom becomes less important.
- Characterize past events
- Minimize Tom's past accomplishments by re-interpreting or inventing history. The elements of the past most suitable for this purpose are those that reside mostly in people's memories, with a minimum of factual evidence to contradict your assertions.
- Exploit repetition
- Repeat your Although questions aren't actually
accusations, and therefore need no
evidence, they can nevertheless
have the effect of accusationsquestions about Tom, your assertions about his past, and your praise for his competitors at every opportunity. People need frequent reminding and re-enforcement before they can truly internalize your misrepresentations.
- Craft a memorable slur
- Build a tight connection between the idea of Tom and reasons for distrusting him. A crisp, short slur that captures one or more of Tom's supposed negative attributes makes your campaign "sticky."
- Elevate the tempo
- Rapid execution of multiple techniques tends to overload Tom's ability to respond with defensive tactics. High tempo also saturates the audience's ability to process your charges and Tom's defenses. After all, everyone does have other things to do.
Most important, limit the effectiveness of Tom's defenses by refuting them in advance. Accuse him of harboring ill will towards you, and characterize his responses as evidence of his vengefulness and defensiveness. That should finish him off. Trust me. Top Next Issue
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See "When Over-Delivering Makes Trouble," Point Lookout for December 5, 2012, for an additional behavior that erodes trust.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Workplace Politics Is Not a Game
- We often think about "playing the game" — either with relish or repugnance. Whatever
your level of skill or interest, you'll do better if you see workplace politics as it is. It is not a game.
- Dismissive Gestures: III
- Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge
or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and
they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Reactance and Micromanagement
- When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden,
or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain
some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
- The Risks of Humor at Work
- Humor at work can be useful for strengthening relationships, making connections, and defusing tension.
And it can be risky, too. Some risks: irrelevance to the here and now, leaving out the funny, or ambiguous
sarcasm. Read this post for five more risks.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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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.