Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 26;   June 26, 2013:

Passive Deceptions at Work

by

Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve camouflage are both the most common and the most difficult to detect. Here's a look at how passive camouflage can play a role in workplace deception.
An orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) perched on an orchid

An orchid mantis (Hymenopus coronatus) perched on an orchid. Indigenous to southeast Asia, it mimics a pink orchid in color and texture. It remains motionless on the flower until prey arrives, and then strikes. Photo (cc) Luc Viatour (www.Lucnix.be) available at Wikipedia.

Most people are familiar with some forms of camouflage as it's used in nature or by the military. The idea usually relates to disguising or cloaking a physical entity so as to make detection difficult. In nature, camouflage often takes the form of protective coloration. Military applications involve similar techniques, but there are also more sophisticated disguises.

Military theorists recognize two classes of deception. Passive deception disguises an existing capability, facility, or intention. Active deception makes a nonexistent capability, facility, or intention appear to be real.

At work, deceptions of all kinds are often a tool of politics. Applying what scientists know about deception in nature, and what military theorists know about deception in war, we can gain new insights into its use in workplace politics. Here are two examples of deceptions in workplace politics that employ passive camouflage.

Disruptive coloration
The black and white coloration of killer whales exemplifies what's called disruptive coloration. The color pattern contradicts the whale's body shape, which gives it an advantage. In the often-uneven light of the subsurface marine environment, other animals might not recognize the killer whale until too late.
In preparation for downsizing, managers must select projects for termination from among projects underway or planned. In some cases, sound decisions require project status reviews that are either sudden or beyond the routine review. If these reviews occur only in preparation for downsizing, conducting them sets off rumors that could trigger an unwanted exodus of employees who believe that they're about to be terminated themselves. Making such project reviews routine prevents them from being seen as a signal of downsizing. With respect to project reviews, such a practice disrupts the boundary between normal operation and preparation for downsizing.
Mimesis
In nature, Applying what scientists know about
camouflage in nature, and what military
theorists know about camouflage in
war, we can gain new insights
into its use in workplace politics
mimesis is mimicry. In the context of camouflage, the flower mantises, which mimic flowers, provide good examples. Typically, flower mantises position themselves on a plant and hold still, or slowly sway back and forth, mimicking one of the plant's flowers, until an insect lands close enough to be caught. Some flower mantises have dark spots on their bodies that act as decoys for actual insects.
In reorganizations, there is sometimes a need to ensure orderly transitions of responsibilities from employees who will be discharged. To ensure that they won't depart before the transition of their responsibilities is complete, and to ensure that they'll cooperate willingly, these employees are sometimes assigned fictitious new responsibilities. Convinced by this mimicry that they can rely on continued employment, these employees remain in place, carrying out their new assignments while they're being debriefed about their former assignments. When the debriefing is complete, they're discharged, and the fictitious efforts that held them in place are terminated.

These are just two examples of passive deceptions at work. Studying nature's tricks can help us detect many more. First in this series  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Active Deceptions at Work  Next Issue

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