In Part I of our exploration of behavioral assessment at work, we examined some relatively innocuous attributes of questions — ambiguity, arcane vocabulary, erroneous assumptions, and inappropriate language. But some people ask questions that are intended to rattle the person questioned, to assess their ability to maintain composure, or to reduce their stature. That is, in a public setting, in a strategy that relies for its effectiveness on ego depletion, the questioner might intend to cause the person questioned to lose composure, leading to regrettably embarrassing behavior, or worse.
Here are some of the hostile approaches in use. As in Part I, we use Alpha as the name of the Asker (a female), and Tango as the name of the Target (a male).
- If the question contains insinuations about others…
- Does Tango defend people in their absence? Does he ask about the details of the insinuation? Is he interested in gossip?
- Does Tango consider all possibilities? Alpha might be trying to discover how Tango handles invitations to gossip. Or perhaps she merely seeks information.
- If it's insulting…
- Does Tango take offense? Or does he ask Alpha whether she is aware of the offense, before enlightening her?
- Alpha might be trying to determine whether, how, or how effectively Tango stands up for himself.
- If it's already been asked repeatedly…
- Is Tango Some people ask questions that
are intended to rattle the person
questioned, to assess their ability
to maintain composure, or to
reduce their statureimpatient? Does he lose control when Alpha repeats the same question in different forms? Or does he ask Alpha what was missing from his previous answers?
- Asking the same question repeatedly, in different forms, can be annoying, because it can indicate distrust, suspicion, or disrespect for Tango's time. How does Tango deal with repetitive questioning?
- If the questioner interrupts repeatedly…
- After Alpha interrupts Tango in mid-response, can Tango resume and smoothly continue his response? Or does he have trouble remembering what he was about to say?
- Mental quickness and excellent short-term memory can be valuable assets. How quick is Tango? How good is his memory? Can he thrive in contention with the sharp minds on this team?
- If the questioner asks four questions at once…
- As Tango responds, can he remember all four questions? This is another test of memory and mental agility.
- Combining this test with repeated interruptions can reveal much about Tango's abilities under pressure, but only if Alpha can keep the four questions straight herself.
- If it's arrogant and condescending
- When Alpha's manner is brusque, condescending, or disrespectful, does Tango address the affront? How? Can he disarm her?
- Knowing Tango's abilities in contentious situations can be useful to Alpha if she must deal with him in the future, whether as friend or foe.
There are no right answers. Much depends on the relationship between Alpha and Tango. But Tango can probably achieve better results by preparing for these situations than he can achieve unprepared. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- False Consensus
- Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus
about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace,
but that trouble is often avoidable.
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization
to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
- Grace Under Fire: II
- When we debate at work, things sometimes turn unpleasant. Out of control, one party might maneuver the
other into losing control. If we have better tools for recognizing these tactics, we're better able
to maintain self-control. Here's Part II of such a toolkit.
- Holding Back: I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget
problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing
relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to
relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects
of that disregard.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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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.
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Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.