Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 19;   May 10, 2017: Dealing with Deniable Intimidation

Dealing with Deniable Intimidation

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Some people use intimidation so stealthily that only their targets recognize the behavior as abusive or intimidating. Targets are often so frustrated, angered, and confused that they cannot find suitable responses.
A Bengal Tiger

A Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). Nature has little use for deniable intimidation. In Nature, intimidation is straightforward.

Deniable intimidation is stealthy. The intimidator-aggressor uses intimidation to manipulate others, but wants to avoid being caught at it. To onlookers, deniable intimidation looks innocent, but to the intimidator's target it can be maddening and humiliating. Responding to deniable intimidation with conventional counter-intimidation is risky, because onlookers tend to see the target's defensive behavior as gratuitous aggression. That's one reason why intimidators seek deniability.

How then can targets respond? In what follows, I'll refer to the intimidator as the aggressor and the target as the defender.

Centering helps
Defenders who center themselves can think more clearly and maintain self-control more easily. Knowing right from wrong and convincing themselves that their own behavior is appropriate are strategies helpful to defenders.
Be selective
Defenders needn't respond to every assault. They might have to acknowledge that an assault has occurred: "I hear you." But they don't have to mix it up with the aggressor every time.
Wait for it
Withstanding deniable intimidation and abuse with aplomb can sometimes compel the aggressor to adopt less deniable tactics. Frustrated that their stealthy approaches aren't working, some aggressors forget that their preferred strategy was based on deniability. They become impatient, lose composure, and attack more directly. When that happens, targets have much more freedom to choose counter-aggressive responses.
Remember the non-verbal options
Targets usually consider only verbal responses, especially when aggressors choose email as the medium for attacks. While verbal responses are often useful, non-verbal responses can be even more effective. For example, in email, delaying a response can fluster the attacker and give the target more time to devise effective responses. In face-to-face meetings, a brief, confident smile might be more effective than a blatant counter-insult.
Counter-intimidate the aggressor in private
In private, straightforward counter-intimidation is relatively low risk, because there are no observers. But since the aggressor might cite anything the defender does or says as evidence of the defender's aggressiveness, defenders must be prepared to convincingly deny anything that might reflect unfavorably upon them. Since the aggressor might make fraudulent accusations, defenders must also convincingly deny falsehoods. Their manner must be equally convincing for both true and false accusations.
Rattle the aggressor
Rattled, Targets usually consider only verbal
responses, especially when aggressors
choose email as the medium for attacks
the aggressor is more likely to engage in blatant intimidation. Techniques that rattle aggressors include a charming, affable manner, deft use of humor, a calm demeanor, keeping one's cool, comfortable and obvious alliances with others, and superior performance.
Seize the initiative
Letting the aggressor determine the tempo and content of the exchange cedes the advantage to the aggressor, who can choose favorable times and settings for deniable attacks. By seizing the initiative, defenders can choose times and settings favorable to them.

Seeking deniability is a strategy that is most appealing to aggressors who feel weak. Targets who can keep that in mind are more likely to recognize their own power. Go to top Top  Next issue: Unresponsive Suppliers: 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? rbrenUfuKIiHfUOGqWlxZner@ChacFGLfyCtWxtzFchrboCanyon.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 Emotions at Work:

Elevator doors at the Spalding Building, Portland, Oregon (2012)Demanding Forgiveness
Working together under stress, we do sometimes hurt each other. Delivering apologies is a skill critical to repairing those hurts and maintaining our relationships.
Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchUnintended Consequences
Sometimes, when we solve problems, the solutions create new problems that can be worse than the problems we solve. Why does this happen? How can we limit this effect?
Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New YorkGood Change, Bad Change: II
When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us, and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
A diagram of effects illustrating these two loops in the Restructuring-Fear CycleThe Restructuring-Fear Cycle: I
When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, spin off, relocate, lay off, or make other adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Often ignored is the fear these changes create in the minds of employees. Sadly, that fear can lead to the need for further restructuring.
Young chickensToxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Dissociative Anonymity
Toxic conflict in teams disrupts relationships and interferes with (or prevents) accomplishment of the team's goals. It's difficult enough to manage toxic conflict in co-located teams, but in virtual teams, dissociative anonymity causes toxic conflict to be both more easily triggered and more difficult to resolve.

See also Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Two men whispering at a village festivalComing January 23: Judging Others
Being "judgmental" is a stance most people recognize as transgressing beyond widely accepted social norms. But what's the harm in judging others? And why do so many people do it so often? Available here and by RSS on January 23.
Bottom: Aerial view of the Forth Bridge, Edinburgh, Scotland. Top: Inside the Forth Rail Bridge, from a ScotRail 158 on August 22, 1999.And on January 30: Conway's Law and Technical Debt
Conway's Law is an observation that the structures of systems we design tend to replicate our communication patterns. This tendency might also contribute to their tendency to accumulate what we now call technical debt. Available here and by RSS on January 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrencZLQgTYlWKOmEEJUner@ChacOujOgQNCujYtyrPEoCanyon.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. Here's a date for this program:

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. Here's a date for 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 Follow me at Google+ or share a post 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.