Shredding documents, destroying or recycling hard drives, and altering records are examples of destroying evidence of what the organization is concealing. Even when evidence destruction is the primary concealment strategy, it's effective only if all evidence is destroyed or rendered unobtainable.
The testimony of witnesses is one kind of evidence that cannot be destroyed as long as the witnesses are able to bear witness. Testimony can be prevented by intimidation, brutality, bribery, and other means, but if prevention fails, what then? From the concealer's perspective, two techniques can be effective even if the whistleblower blows the whistle.
- Indirect personal attacks
- Most whistleblowers anticipate direct personal attacks, but personal attacks can be directed at loved ones, too. Children, spouses, parents, siblings — all are potential targets. Spouses can be seduced. Legal, emotional, financial, marital, or other difficulties of close family members can be exposed and used to discredit or apply pressure to whistleblowers.
- If you already know of vulnerabilities of this kind, consider carefully how to protect yourself. Finding employment elsewhere is not protection from those who fear exposure. If the organization or its employees believe that you might someday become a problem, they might preemptively destroy your credibility in advance of any action you might take, no matter where you go for your next job or assignment. Effective protection usually involves convincing them of your ability to do more damage to them than they can do to you. That strategy often requires assembling evidence and seeking professional assistance.
- Direct disinformation
- Employees not directly implicated Finding employment elsewhere
is not protection from
those who fear exposurein the concealed activity (or inactivity) are potential candidate whistleblowers, because they often feel — justifiably or not — that they haven't themselves transgressed. From the perspective of those directly involved, even candidate whistleblowers constitute risk. To limit risk, false information of a seemingly incriminating nature is sometimes made available to them. Passing along this disinformation to investigators or media could then damage the whistleblower's credibility.
- Don't assume that everything you think you know about the concealed activity is actually true. Be especially careful about material that came to you too easily, or uncorroborated, or which had a "stage-managed" feel. If you suspect that you've received disinformation, interpret it as an indicator that you're being targeted proactively as a potential whistleblower. That could mean that the organization, or individuals within it, have taken other actions as well, such as investigating you or your family members, or tampering with your work products or records. When you do pass along information to counsel, investigators, or media, be careful to indicate whether you suspect that any of it is disinformation intentionally passed along to you.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 19: Unintended Condescension: I
- Condescending remarks can deflect almost any conversation into destructive directions. The lost productivity is especially painful when the condescension is unintended. Here are two examples of remarks that others hear as condescension, but which often aren't intended as such. Available here and by RSS on February 19.
- And on February 26: Unintended Condescension: II
- Intentionally making condescending remarks is something most of us do only when we lose control. But anyone at any time can inadvertently make a remark that someone else experiences as condescending. We explored two patterns to avoid last time. Here are two more. Available here and by RSS on February 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.