Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 20, Issue 43;   October 21, 2020:

Projection Deception

by

Practitioners of the dark side of workplace politics are skilled in the art of deception. One technique involves exploiting psychological projection on the part of the person deceived.
Dummy LCTs (Landing Craft, Tank) used as decoys in harbors in the period before D-Day, 1944

Dummy LCTs (Landing Craft, Tank) like these were used as decoys, stored in harbors and estuaries in southeast England in the period before D-Day, 1944. The Allies expected that these decoys would help to mislead German intelligence analysts about the location of the invasion of Europe. Those Allied expectations might be viewed as a result of projecting onto German intelligence analysts thoughts and conclusions that Allied strategists might have had themselves, when interpreting similar data. Image H 42527 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, courtesy Wikipedia.

Psychological projection is a pattern of thought in which we attribute to another person thoughts or feelings that relate in some way to our own. Usually, the term is applied to the process of attributing one's own unacceptable thoughts to others. For example, if we're feeling vulnerable in a given situation, we might attribute feelings of vulnerability to another person in that situation. Or someone who habitually lies might adopt a belief that others habitually lie as well. For some, such attributing provides comfort or insulation from the discomfort that might arise from the thoughts or feelings like the ones he or she attributes to others.

In this form, projection provides us with a tool for self-deception. It enables us to avoid the discomfort or pain associated with some thoughts or feelings by attributing those same thoughts or feelings to others. Evidence isn't required. We just do it, often outside our own awareness.

Another form of projection occurs when we attribute to someone else what we ourselves would think or feel if our own circumstances matched what we believe the other person is experiencing. For example, when we look upon a tearful child who has been present during an accident injuring a puppy, projection might lead us to feel sadness ourselves, or at least to attribute feelings of sadness to the child. We might make such an attribution even if we lack evidence that the child was aware of what happened to the puppy. Or we might assess as unreliable and motivated by vengeance the word of a recently terminated employee regarding impropriety at the company from which that employee was discharged. Projection enables us to make such assessments and routinely take them as factual without any evidence at all.

Projection isn't good or bad, even though the term is usually a term of disparagement in everyday interactions. For example, when one person accuses another, without evidence, of lying for personal gain, the term projection might be invoked to describe the accuser's thought process. Projecting in that way is generally deprecated. But the ability to project provides valuable advantages. For example, anyone who wants to display or experience empathy for a person in trouble would find helpful the ability to project. The ability to project, like the ability to think, is a tool. It can be used — or misused.

And one particular misuse of projection is what I'm exploring in this post — the use of projection for the purpose of deceiving others.

A fake email hardcopy scenario

Here's an example. Projection isn't good or bad,
even though the term is
usually a term of disparagement
in everyday interactions
I'll use the name Deceiver for the deceiver, and Target for the target — the person deceived. I assigned male gender to Deceiver and female to Target by a coin flip.

Target's supervisor, Deceiver, knows that Target wants to lead an upcoming project. He also knows that he and the project sponsor, whom I call Sponsor, have already chosen someone else for the position without posting the opportunity publicly, which is contrary to company policy. To conceal their subterfuge, Deceiver and Sponsor won't be announcing their decision until next month.

Meanwhile, Target has asked Deceiver to help her get the assignment, but Deceiver doesn't want to tell her the bad news. He wants her to believe that he's trying to help her. So before their next weekly one-on-one meeting in Deceiver's office, Deceiver composes an email message to Sponsor that recommends Target for the position, but he doesn't send the message. He prints it, and leaves the hardcopy on his desk, with a few revisions marked, as if he's working on the wording.

He arranges to be late for his meeting with Target, and calls her mobile phone just before the meeting. He tells her that he thinks he'll arrive on time, but he might be a bit late, and if he is, she should wait for him in his office. He's relying on her curiosity — he expects her to read the fake draft message on his desk. When he arrives, he hastily gathers the papers on his desk and tucks them into a folder. Maybe she reads it, maybe not. If she does, his ploy works.

In this scenario, Deceiver uses projection to anticipate that Target might be tempted to snoop a bit by reading the hardcopy fake message sitting on Deceiver's desk. Because Deceiver feels that he (Deceiver) would be tempted in this way, he hopes that Target might also be so tempted. It isn't a sure-fire tactic, but it just might work.

Is anticipatory projection a thing?

One difference between the sort of projection described in the Fake Email Hardcopy scenario and a more typical use of the term projection is that the projection executed by Deceiver is anticipatory. That is, Deceiver does his projecting in advance of the Target's participation in the event. Most uses of the term projection refer to one person's thought process occurring contemporaneously with another person's behavior, feelings, or thoughts.

But I believe that we also use projection both retrospectively and prospectively. We use it to understand how others behaved in past circumstances, and we use it to predict how others will behave in circumstances yet to pass. I haven't found research to justify this belief, but I'm still looking. You can decide for yourself about the validity of this conjecture. Go to top Top  Next issue: Notes to Self  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? rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.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:

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
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.
Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.
A Mustang GT illegally occupying two parking spaces at Vaughan Mills Mall, OntarioNarcissistic Behavior at Work: III
People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people.
What an implicit interrogation can look likeImplicit Interrogations
Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An exit signComing January 19: Comply, Resist, or Exploit?
When we encounter obstacles, we have choices about how we deal with them. Generally, we can comply, we can resist, or sometimes, we can find ways to use the obstacles — to exploit them — to advance to our objectives. The pandemic provides two examples. Available here and by RSS on January 19.
The iconic image of cyber code, as popularized in the film The MatrixAnd on January 26: Cyber Rumors in Organizations
Rumor management practices in organizations haven't kept up with rumor propagation technology. Rumors that propagate by digital means — cyber rumors — have longer lifetimes, spread faster, are more credible, and are better able to reinforce each other. Available here and by RSS on January 26.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.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 500-1000 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.