Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 32;   August 8, 2012: Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks

Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks

by

When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
Palm trees blowing in a hurricane

Palm trees blowing in hurricane-force wind. For some species of palm trees, survivability in hurricane force winds is excellent. Their leaves yield first, as shown in the photo. But the trunks are flexible too, and if the wind is strong enough, it can strip the leaves from the tree, greatly relieving stress on the trunk. For even stronger winds, the tree can topple, but unlike other species, toppling doesn't necessarily kill the tree. You might have seen some palm trees that seem to grow horizontally out of the ground. These trees are usually survivors of toppling.

We can take some valuable lessons from the palm tree. If survival is the goal, flexibility is a must.

Photo courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We began exploring rapid-fire attacks last time, emphasizing response tactics that depend on assistance from others. But what if there are no others to turn to? What if others decline to assist? Options for targets depend to some extent on the relative organizational power of attacker and target.

When the attacker has superior organizational power, targets have limited options. Some attackers tempt their targets to "lose it" by leading them to exhibit behavior that justifies organizationally sanctioned disciplinary action. Others intentionally inflict emotional pain. Attackers' motives vary, but for targets of powerful attackers, the only "safe" response — short of transfer or voluntary termination — is tolerating the attacks. To limit opportunities for their attackers, targets should avoid private meetings or other settings free of witnesses. And, of course, log everything.

The more interesting case is the attacker who has little organizational power over the target. Perhaps attacker and target are peers, or close to it. In this situation, the target can choose the tolerance strategy described above, but that's unlikely to persuade the attacker to cease.

By creating conditions that can make the attacker's behavior both obvious to management and harmful to management's goals, the three alternative tactics below can help to convince management to intervene.

Reflecting
In response to verbal criticisms and attacks, targets can request further detail and criticism. Attackers are unlikely to interrupt such validating queries. Some attackers can thus be seduced into making stunningly outrageous claims and demands.
Complying
When the attacker demands additional explanations or records, and assembling that information would consume resources management would rather not expend, the target can agree to comply. If a management representative is present, he or she will feel pressure to intervene on behalf of the target to prevent waste. If management isn't present, the target can later seek approval from management, which can compel management to intervene on behalf of the target. In these cases, targets should make clear that the compilation effort will delay other efforts already scheduled.
In assembling When the attacker has superior
organizational power, targets
have limited options
the requested information, targets can include excruciating detail and other ancillary information, so as to compel the attacker to demand further clarification.
Plopping
Plopping is a way of ignoring the attacker. Best used before witnesses, plopping can anger the attacker, which might lead to inappropriate behavior. To execute the tactic, the target pauses when interrupted by the attacker, waits for the attacker to finish, ignores whatever the attacker said, and resumes as if nothing happened. In effect, the attacker's words land with a "plop." While this approach seems superficially to be reasonable behavior, it is nevertheless extraordinarily irritating to the attacker. See "Plopping," Point Lookout for October 22, 2003, for more.

Management intervention is of course preferable. But one of these tactics might be the best available choice to induce management to do its duty. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Top 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenljlHdCfoXhzORcKNner@ChacFdGdwrxFkpRRywyBoCanyon.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 Workplace Bullying:

Too much time on his handsHurtful Clichés: II
Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or "Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.
Comparision of brain scans before and after a concussionMeeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs
Bullying in meetings is difficult to address, because intervention in the moment is inherently public. When bullying happens in meetings, what can you do?
Congessman Darryl Issa (R-CA)When the Chair Is a Bully: II
Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
The Town Hall of Brighton, England, in 2010Social Isolation and Workplace Bullying
Social isolation is a tactic widely used by workplace bullies. What is it? How do bullies use it? Why do bullies use it? What can targets do about it?

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A human marionetteComing November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
Desperation at workAnd on December 6: Reframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden. Available here and by RSS on December 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhTyGSNsYmYhtcUfFner@ChacbwsfKkSSRGFBVMpuoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, 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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post 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 new 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.