In 1940s street parlance, to frame is to ensnare or catch: "I was set up!"; "He was innocent, but the police framed him." In framing, someone creates evidence to project the appearance that the target carried out an illegal act. For instance, a framer might plant at a crime scene a drinking glass with the target's fingerprints.
In organizational politics, frames need not meet the standards of evidence that a court of law requires. Political frames often consist of interpretations, innuendos, privately voiced assertions and vague accusations. Moreover, political framing isn't necessarily carried out before the fact. The innuendos and accusations usually occur after an incident, as the framer provides an alternate interpretation of that incident to disparage the target.
Here are some of the communication techniques of political framers, and a few suggested counter tactics.
- Requests for information
- To further an appearance of probity and reason, the framer can make innocent-sounding requests for information. Phrases like "help me understand," or "can you clarify" might appear. The questions themselves provide the framer opportunities to add to the frame. For instance, the framer might ask, "I've been told that you assassinated President Lincoln. Can you confirm that this is a simple misunderstanding?" The accusation is nested in a seemingly reasonable request for a denial, but the request itself gives the framer a chance to spread the accusation.
- When this occurs, the damage is already done. Although it's tempting to say nothing at all, remember that silence can be interpreted in many ways. A response is required, but if it's anything more than a simple, straight, and serious denial, you risk making the problem worse.
- Multi-channel communication
- Believing that they know everything the framer has said is a common mistake of targets of framers. When targets learn of some new charges, usually indirectly, they tend to focus on those charges, ignoring the possibility that other communications are happening In organizational politics,
frames need not meet the
standards of evidence that
a court of law requiresor might already have happened. For instance, the framer might make an accusation directly to the target, having already prepared the audience by making that same charge — and more — in a more private venue, excluding the target. Targets, believing that they know the full scope of the problem, then address the charges they know about. The framer is then free to fall back on already-prepared ground, leaving the target's carefully prepared defense unanswered and effectively deflected.
- As a target, it's wise to assume that the framer has had more communication with others than you know, and that some of those others are convinced that you've done and said what the framer claims. When you hear of new charges, try to draw out more, to get everything on the table before trying to turn things around. To avoid further spreading falsehoods, privacy is best, but privacy is not always possible.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Stonewalling: II
- Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction. Some less sophisticated tactics rely on misrepresentation to
gum up the works. Those that employ bureaucratic methods are more devious. What can you do about stonewalling?
- A Critique of Criticism: I
- Whether we call it "criticism" or "feedback," the receiver can sometimes experience
pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to
increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?
- On Badly Written Email
- Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some
who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're
pretty sure there's no way out.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.