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!

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 Conflict Management:

Two orcasWhen Leaders Fight
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?
A happy babyPeek-a-Boo and Leadership
Great leaders know what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it, sometimes with stunning effect. Consistently effective leadership requires superior empathy skills. Here are some things to do to improve your empathy skills.
A TSA Officer screening a passengerVirtual Termination with Real Respect
When we have to terminate someone who works at a remote site, sometimes there's a temptation to avoid travel — to use email, phone, fax, or something else. They're all bad ideas. Terminating people in person is not only a gesture of respect. It's good business.
The John Hollis Bankhead Lock and Dam on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, AlabamaFirst Aid for Wounded Conversations
Groups that meet regularly sometimes develop patterns of tense conversations that become obstacles to forward progress. Here are some ideas for releasing the tension.
Bull Elk Antler Sparring for Dominance in their herdOvertalking: I
Overtalking is the practice of using one's own talking to prevent others from talking. It can lead to hurt feelings and toxic conflict. Why does it happen and what can we do about it?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The side mirror view from an automobileComing December 8: Surviving Incompetence: II
When your organization undertakes a misguided effort that will certainly fail, you have options. One is to head for the exit. To search for a new position in such circumstances requires some care. Example: an internal transfer might not really be an exit. Available here and by RSS on December 8.
A gray wolfAnd on December 15: Do My Job
A popular guideline in modern workplaces is "do your job." The idea is that if we all do our jobs, success is most likely. But some supervisors demand that subordinates do their own jobs, plus the jobs of their supervisors. It rarely works out well. Available here and by RSS on December 15.

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.