Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 47;   November 25, 2015: Suppressing Dissent: I

Suppressing Dissent: I

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007), historian of American liberalism, speechwriter and adviser to Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson II, and special assistant to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. Although he participated in the deliberations leading up to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, he was a dissenter. Aware that President Kennedy sought unanimity for whatever the group decided, Schlesinger expressed his dissent in memos to the President, rather than aloud in the presence of the full group. He came eventually to regret his silence. In this case, the group leader, the President, did not act overtly to suppress dissent. Rather, he failed to encourage dissent — to create an environment safe enough to enable expression of diverse opinions. Photo ca. 1961-1963 by the United States Information Service available at Wikimedia Commons.

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 credibility
of 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.

In Part II we'll look at suppressing dissent in meetings. That is, unless you object.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Suppressing Dissent: II  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? rbrenABDjgUuLUlUjnRHGner@ChacWtKnbHnseBKxlZkHoCanyon.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 Devious Political Tactics:

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin PowellDevious 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.
Allied leaders at the Yalta Conference in February, 1945Devious 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.
George Orwell's 1933 press card photo issued by the Branch of the National Union of JournalistsDevious 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.
Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945Suppressing Dissent: II
Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
Donald Trump, as a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2016Is It Arrogance or Confidence?
Confusing arrogance and confidence can cause real trouble — or lost opportunities. What exactly is the difference between them?

See also Devious Political Tactics and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A rainbowComing May 29: Newtonian Blind Alleys: II
Some of our decisions don't turn out well. The nature of our errors does vary, but a common class of errors is due to applying concepts from physics originated by Isaac Newton. One of these is the concept of spectrum. Available here and by RSS on May 29.
Signing the Constitution of the United States, 1787And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenkxYbMJrZCIiqIboOner@ChacYFqoxuOjzvTnBXFxoCanyon.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.

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
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!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
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.