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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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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.