Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 46;   November 17, 2021:

When You Feel Attacked

by

Verbal attacks might be upsetting, but in creative conflicts they're usually permissible if related to substantive matters. When verbal attacks are personal, they can be unfair and illegitimate. The ability to recenter yourself quickly is invaluable.
Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, Ohio

Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a picture of tranquility. One aid in maintaining composure under fire is memory of a tranquil scene.

Conflict — constructive, destructive, or both at once — sometimes leads to painful personal attacks by one party on another. And the pain of personal attacks can compromise our ability to respond effectively. In such circumstances, when we feel attacked personally, formulating and executing effective responses requires the ability to first recover our thinking powers. Seeing the attack from a perspective different from the personal one can provide that ability.

Some attacks are indeed motivated only by a desire to inflict psychic pain. But recognizing that some attackers have other motivations can help find a perspective that is a sound basis for effective response. To find that perspective, begin by recognizing that the attack might not be what it seems. It is for these other kinds of personal attacks that this post can provide tools. Below are four forms of personal attacks that are driven by motives more complex than simple infliction of psychic pain.

Maybe the attack is actually a counterattack
Even if you haven't attacked anyone, your attacker's perception might be that you have attacked either your attacker, or possibly someone else. Because your perception is that you haven't attacked anyone, you probably experience the attack on you as unprovoked. But your attacker sees things differently.
Untangling Some attacks are indeed motivated only
by a desire to inflict psychic pain, but there
are many other possible motivations
this confusion can be difficult, because the difference in perceptions interferes with the communication necessary for aligning the perceptions. A third party can be helpful and necessary.
Maybe you aren't the ultimate target
Although the attacker might be attacking your position or your person, the real target might be someone or something else — your supervisor or mentor, or one of your subordinates, or one of your initiatives, or some other initiative that depends on your support.
Before you counterattack the attacker, consider carefully what your attacker's objective might be. If you aren't the ultimate target, consider forming an alliance with whomever or whatever might be the ultimate target.
Maybe the attack is only a demonstration
Your attacker might not be trying to discredit you or your position. Rather, the attack might be intended to cause you to adjust or abandon your position voluntarily, by demonstrating what the attacker might know or might do if you don't do as the attacker desires. The intended audience of the demonstration might be you, or it might be someone else.
Understanding the attacker's objective might require that you determine the identity of the demonstration's intended audience. An alliance with the members of that audience can prove powerful.
Maybe the attacker is a proxy
Some attackers are acting as proxies for people who might not be directly involved in the conflict. These outside parties have an interest in weakening the target, or detaching the target from the target's current position. To convince the attacker to engage, the outside party might be employing incentives or disincentives.
If the attacker is responding to incentives or disincentives from an outside party, knowledge of the nature of those inducements can be helpful in devising a response. Greater incentives or more severe disincentives might be sufficient to alter the attacker's behavior.

These are only examples of alternative explanations for the attack. The theme that unites all these examples is that the attack might not be what it seems to be, and if it is, the attacker might not be motivated by animus toward you. If you can keep that thought in mind as the attack unfolds, you're more likely to gain insight into what's really happening. That insight can help you remain centered and find a way to respond effectively. Go to top Top  Next issue: Three Levels of Deception at Work  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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In many organizations, technical debt has resisted efforts to control it. We've made important technical advances, but full control might require applying some results of the behavioral economics community, including a concept they call mental accounting. Available here and by RSS on June 1.
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In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out order can cause confusion and waste of time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need more flexible queue management. Available here and by RSS on June 8.

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