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 nonverbal options
- Targets usually consider only verbal responses, especially when aggressors choose email as the medium for attacks. While verbal responses are often useful, nonverbal 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.
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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- I Think, Therefore I Laugh
- Humor is fun — that's why they call it "funny." If you add humor to your own work environment,
you'll reduce your level of stress, increase your creativity, and drive your enemies nuts.
- Manipulated Commitments
- Manipulated or coerced commitment looks pretty good on paper, but it might not lead to dedicated action.
When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.
- Totally at Home
- Getting home from work is far more than a question of transportation. What can we do to come home totally
— to move not only our bodies, but our minds and our spirits from work to home?
- Blind Agendas
- Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants
can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
- Coercion by Presupposition
- Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it
frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal
responsibility for ending it.
See also Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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