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 attacksthe 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.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- 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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