In Part I of this exploration, we examined three tactics for causing other people to lose control. Skill in recognizing these tactics in the moment is helpful to anyone intent on remaining calm and resisting the urge to attack or to respond to insults in kind. But there are two other consequences of this kind of awareness. First, bystanders who recognize the tactics of manipulation are well equipped to intervene to halt the fracas before it expands. Second, and even more important, a general awareness of widespread ability to recognize these toxic behaviors is a deterrent to anyone considering employing them.
With these advantages in mind, consider four more examples.
- Although interrupting others is widely regarded as rude, the effects of being interrupted vary from person to person. Interruptions can be so upsetting that graceless retaliation is difficult to avoid. And repeated, staccato interruption — badgering — can lead to angry outbursts by the person interrupted.
- When startled, we're more likely to respond gracelessly. To exploit this, an attacker might approach a target stealthily from behind, and suddenly, and apparently affectionately, throw an arm around the target's shoulders. Or the attacker might enter the target's office unannounced at particularly inopportune moments. These methods use invasions of the target's personal space to induce fear responses. Personal space invasions are especially effective if the attacker has physically assaulted or threatened the target — or anyone known to the target — in the past.
- Mock taunting or needling
- To taunt is to provoke or ridicule with hurtful remarks. A mock taunt is a taunt delivered as if in jest, possibly with a wink or smile. Sometimes we call this behavior "needling." Attackers using this tactic expect their targets to be offended because the targets disregard the humorous wrapper. They expect bystanders to be duped by that wrapper. To bystanders, targets who respond gracelessly to the taunt then seem to be thin-skinned. The attacker can then deny intentionally inflicting pain, saying, "I didn't mean anything by it," or, "Can't you take a joke?" or "I didn't realize you were so touchy."
- Ambush, especially in Ambush, especially in public,
depletes the target's ability
to maintain composurepublic, depletes the target's ability to maintain composure by surprising the target in some way that threatens his or her ability to perform. For example, if the target is presenting to a small group virtually, and each remote site was to have received accompanying materials to be distributed in hardcopy, the attacker might deliver to some sites draft versions instead of the final versions, which might appear to be an honest mistake. The confusion can rattle the target, who then might not deal well with the attacker's probing or potentially embarrassing questions during the presentation.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Obstructionist Tactics: II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
II of a little catalog of tactics.
- Masked Messages
- Sometimes what we say to each other isn't what we really mean. We mask the messages, or we form them
into what are usually positive structures, to make them appear to be something less malicious than they
are. Here are some examples of masked messages.
- Political 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.
- Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
- When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining
to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management
wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
- Make Suggestions Privately
- Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions
privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
- Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
- And on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
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