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:
- The Advantages of Political Attack: II
- In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions.
Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also
have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
- When Over-Delivering Makes Trouble
- When responding to inquiries such as "Is that correct?" we sometimes err by giving too many
reasons why it's incorrect. Patterns of over-delivery can lead to serious trouble. Here's how.
- Ethical Debate at Work: II
- Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others,
but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates
toward wise outcomes.
- They Just Don't Understand
- When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others.
The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others.
- Organizational Roots of Toxic Conflict
- When toxic conflict erupts in a team, cooperation ends and person-to-person attacks begin. Usually we
hold responsible the people involved. But in some cases, the organization is the root cause, and then
replacing or disciplining the people might not help.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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