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:
- The Advantages of Political Attack: I
- In workplace politics, attackers sometimes prevail even when the attacks are specious, and even when
the attacker's job performance is substandard. Why are attacks so effective, and how can targets respond
- OODA at Work
- OODA is a model of decision-making that's especially useful in rapidly evolving environments, such as
combat, marketing, politics, and emergency management. Here's a brief overview.
- Reactance and Micromanagement
- When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden,
or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain
some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
- Workplace Politics and Type III Errors
- Most job descriptions contain few references to political effectiveness, beyond the fairly standard
collaborate-to-achieve-results kinds of requirements. But because true achievement often requires political
sophistication, understanding the political content of our jobs is important.
- Unanswerable Questions
- Some questions are beyond our power to answer, but many of us try anyway. What are some of these unanswerable
questions and how can we respond?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
- And on April 3: Career Opportunity or Career Trap: I
- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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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.
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.