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:
- Can You Hear Me Now?
- Not feeling heard can feel like an attack, even when there was no attack, and then conversation can
quickly turn to war. Here are some tips for hearing your conversation partner and for conveying the
message that you actually did hear.
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than
the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict.
It can be an expensive practice.
- Virtual Conflict
- Conflict, both constructive and destructive, is part of teamwork. As virtual teams become more common,
we're seeing more virtual conflict — conflict that crosses site boundaries. Dealing with destructive
conflict is difficult enough face-to-face, but in virtual teams, it's especially tricky.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- Characterization Risk
- To characterize is to offer a description of a person, event, or concept. Characterizations are usually
judgmental, and usually serve one side of a debate. And they often make trouble.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 21: 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. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
- And on November 28: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.
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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.