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 motivationsthis 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. Top Next Issue
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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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Obstructionist Tactics: I
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics
do obstructors use?
- Agenda Despots: II
- Some meeting chairs crave complete or near-complete control of their meeting agendas. In this Part II
of our exploration of their techniques, we emphasize methods for managing unwanted topic contributions
- When Somebody Throws a Nutty
- To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal
over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end
of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?
- Quips That Work at Work: II
- Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using
humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where
thinking can resume.
- Covert Inter-Team Noncooperation
- Occasionally teams find that they must cooperate with another team despite strong misgivings. Because
noncooperation isn't an option, they find covert ways to avoid cooperating. Here's a little catalog
of techniques of Covert Inter-Team Noncooperation.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
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