Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 33;   August 19, 2015: When the Answer Isn't the Point: II

When the Answer Isn't the Point: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.
A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during training

A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of a M-198 howitzer during live fire and maneuver training of the 11th Marine Regiment on November 20, 2000, in the United Arab Emirates. One class of artillery tactics is known as harassing fire. The goal of harassing fire is to degrade enemy physical and psychological resources by firing at opposing positions at random points and at random times over long periods, thus limiting opponents' ability to rest and resupply. It is a tactic that relies for its success, in part, on ego depletion. Photo by Corporal Branden P. O'Brien, U.S. Marine Corps, courtesy Wikimedia.

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 stature
impatient? 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  Go to top Top  Next issue: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, CaliforniaSnares at Work
Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how to deal with them.
A scene from the Orphan Girl Theatre's production of Antigone at the Butte Center for the Performing ArtsStalking the Elephant in the Room: II
When everyone is thinking something that no one dares discuss, we say that there is "an elephant in the room." Free-ranging elephants are expensive and dangerous to both the organization and its people. Here's Part II of a catalog of indicators that elephants are about.
Malibu beach at sunsetFailure Foreordained
Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance. But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?
Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.
Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.

See also Workplace Politics and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Bay of Pigs, CubaComing September 30: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink, and Shared Information Bias. Available here and by RSS on September 30.
Assembling an IKEA chairAnd on October 7: Seven More Planning Pitfalls: III
Planning teams, like all teams, are vulnerable to several patterns of interaction that can lead to counter-productive results. Two of these relevant to planners are a cognitive bias called the IKEA Effect, and a systemic bias against realistic estimates of cost and schedule. Available here and by RSS on October 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.