Loyal dissent by members of groups or teams is a valuable resource. Whether in mission-oriented teams or long-lived functional groups, dissent gives the group access to information, intuition, and perspectives that enable it to achieve high performance while avoiding dangerous blunders. But some groups and leaders regard dissent — even loyal dissent — as disloyal. They adopt attitudes and take actions that they hope will quell current objections and prevent future "complaints" as well.
Paradoxically, suppressing dissent can create threats to group safety and performance more significant than any dissent can do. Only when group members and leaders can recognize dissent suppression tactics can they create and maintain environments that allow safe expression of loyal dissent.
Suppressing dissent can entail acts either seen or unseen from any given perspective. The four most relevant perspectives are Leader, Dissenter, non-Leader Suppressor, and Bystander. A thorough exploration would include all four perspectives, but for brevity, let's focus on the Leader's perspective as an example. Here are some tactics Leaders use to suppress dissent.
- Terminating, reassigning, or ejecting
- Leaders who have sufficient organizational power can terminate Dissenters. Leaders who lack the power to terminate can sometimes arrange for reassignment, removal, or transfer. These are all drastic moves, often seen as heavy-handed, and they can in some cases create legal liability. But they are effective, and they convey clear signals to other group members that dissent is unwelcome.
- Humiliating the Dissenter
- Any means Any means of humiliating the
Dissenter, whether or not related
to the substance of the dissent,
erodes the Dissenter's credibilityof humiliating the Dissenter, whether or not related to the substance of the dissent, erodes the Dissenter's credibility. By creating fear of similar treatment, humiliation also inhibits others from joining the dissent, or offering unrelated dissents of their own on other matters.
- Disinforming the Dissenter
- By providing the Dissenter with misinformation, directly or indirectly, the Leader creates opportunities to discredit the Dissenter. For example, misinforming the Dissenter about a deadline can cause the Dissenter to be unprepared. If the disinformation pertains to the substance of the dissent, the Dissenter, misled, might make public assertions that the Leader can refute later, in potentially embarrassing contexts.
- Disinforming others
- By passing misinformation to others the Leader can create "facts" that affect the image and reputation of the Dissenter. Disinformation of this kind usually consists of assertions about the character, capabilities, or past performance of the Dissenter. By creating doubts about the Dissenter, the Leader can create doubts about the substance of the Dissenter's positions.
- Abusing appointment power
- Some Leaders have authority to assign tasks to group members, or to otherwise appoint members to teams or committees. Leaders can use this power to assign desirable appointments to non-Dissenters, or confer undesirable appointments upon Dissenters, often announcing them as faits accomplis, giving Dissenters no opportunity to express their preferences or seek alternative assignments. Such "misappointments" are often unethical, because they allocate responsibility not on the basis of merit or ability, but instead for purposes of retribution.
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More articles on Devious Political Tactics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends.
Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage.
Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- Devious Political Tactics: Mis- and Disinformation
- Practitioners of workplace politics intent on gaining unfair advantage sometimes use misinformation,
disinformation, and other information-related tactics. Here's a short catalog of techniques to watch for.
- Passive Deceptions at Work
- Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve camouflage are both the most common
and the most difficult to detect. Here's a look at how passive camouflage can play a role in workplace
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.