As we saw last time, passive deception disguises an actual capability, facility, or intention to make it difficult to detect, while active deception disguises a non-existent capability, facility, or intention to make it appear real. Dozens of wonderful examples of active deception from the military domain come from the activities of the so-called Ghost Army in World War II.
The Ghost Army, officially the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops of the U.S. Army, deceived the enemy by creating the impression that forces were positioned where no forces actually were. They carried out missions in Britain before the Normandy landings, and staged 20 deceptions in Europe after the landings. Using inflatable dummy vehicles, sound trucks blaring recordings of mechanized vehicles, and false radio traffic mimicking actual units, they succeeded in distorting enemy positions and even drawing fire.
Here are two examples of active deceptions at work.
- Layers of the onion
- This ploy involves concealing a deception behind another deception. When the targets notice the frontmost deception, and see through it, they most often presume that what they find behind it is real. They rarely attempt to remove another layer of the onion.
- For example, finding in the output tray of a shared printer a resume of a colleague, we often assume that he or she is quietly job-hunting. We assume that we've detected a deception. We rarely consider the possibility that someone else printed the resume and left it there to deceive the discoverer into believing that the resume's owner is job-hunting. When we think we've detected a deception, we assume that the most obvious alternative explanation is true.
- False threats
- In the context of When we notice a deception,
we usually assume that
whatever lies behind
it is truthworkplace politics, a threat is a statement of intent to inflict harm or discomfort. Threats are usually conditional; that is, unless the target complies with the wishes of the threatener, the threat will be executed. A false threat is a threat that the threatener doesn't intend to carry out. It appears to be a real threat, though, and that's what makes this tactic an active deception.
- For example, to persuade a subordinate (Saul) to work six days a week for an extended period, a deceptive supervisor (Belinda) might threaten Saul with dismissal by saying, "If you won't do this, we'll find someone else who will." Some supervisors use this approach even when Saul has skills and knowledge that make him irreplaceable. If Belinda doesn't actually believe that Saul is replaceable, she's engaged in active deception. Sadly, the tactic often works. It's most effective when unemployment is high, because Saul fears losing his job.
These are simple examples. Some deceptions contain both active and passive elements. Understanding the nature of active and passive deceptions can reduce the chances of your being deceived. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring
costs. How can we quantify management debt?
- Pariah Professions: II
- In some organizations entire professions are regarded as pariahs — outsiders. They're expected
to perform functions that the organization does need, but their relationships with others in the organization
are strained at best. When pariahdom is tolerated, organizational performance suffers.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: II
- Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins,
some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
- Just Make It Happen
- Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen."
We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated
by ambition or ignorance — or both.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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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.