Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 13, Issue 27;   July 3, 2013: Active Deceptions at Work

Active Deceptions at Work

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
An inflatable aircraft of the U.S. Ghost Army in World War II

An inflatable aircraft of the U.S. Ghost Army in World War II. That inflatable aircraft were used as part of the simulation of ghost divisions is interesting enough, but if you look closely, you'll notice that it is camouflaged with netting overhead. The camouflage that was used was intended to be ineffective enough that the dummy aircraft would be detectable by enemy reconnaissance aircraft. This deception thus conforms to the pattern we here call "Layers of the onion." the idea was that the enemy should be able to detect the dummy aircraft because the camouflage deception was ineffective. Having detected it, the enemy would then conclude that it was a real aircraft, and not examine it carefully enough to determine its true nature. Indeed, a dummy aircraft without camouflage would certainly have seemed suspicious. The stakes were actually much higher than simple detection of dummy aircraft. The enemy had no inkling that the Ghost Army was engaged in deception at all. If even one of their deceptions had been uncovered, their effectiveness overall would have been compromised.

So it is with workplace deception. Once one becomes known for engaging in deception, trusting relationships become difficult to maintain. Isolation is a serious risk.

Photo courtesy U.S. National Archives.

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 truth
workplace 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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Workplace Politics and Type III Errors  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
Doodles by T.D. Lee, created while working with C.N. YangDismissive 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.
Theatrical poster for the 1944 film Double IndemnityPolitical Framing: Communications
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some communications tactics framers use.
Mohandas GhandiNo Tangles
When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere. How does this happen?
A virtual meeting of a particular fancy typeThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: I
By now, most of us realize how expensive meetings are. Um, well, maybe not. Here's a look at some of the most-often overlooked costs of meetings.

See also Workplace Politics and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Filling a form in hardcopyComing 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.
Truth and LiesAnd on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.