by Rick Brenner
Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.
Lisa barely understood what Craig was saying. It wasn't deep — Craig wasn't all that smart. He was just using his speakerphone, and the sound quality was horrible. "Craig," she said, "I can barely understand you. You on speaker?"
After a click, the hum disappeared, and Craig's voice came on, clearly: "There. Is that better? Sorry, just trying to save my neck."
'Right,' thought Lisa. Then, exasperated but in control, to Craig: "OK. Now. You were saying."
Craig always uses his speakerphone. Maybe he actually is ten times busier than everyone else, and maybe he needs both hands free to do whatever he does when he's talking on the phone. Possibly, though, he likes to send the I'm-too-important-for-this message. If someone calls him on it, he can always claim that he was just trying to save his shoulder, or his neck, or his time. And maybe he is — that's what makes this intimidation tactic deniable.
Here are three more deniable intimidation tactics.
- Space invasion
- We all have personal space around us that we consider our own. Its radius depends in part on our relationship to the people who enter it, and in part on the culture that reared us. Intimidators sometimes enter this space intentionally.
- Your response to space invaders depends on your willingness to violate cultural norms. Whatever you do, be very careful, because the invasion is rarely as obvious to others as it is to you. A strong reaction on your part could appear to others to be unprovoked. It's best to back away before the violation occurs.
- Leaning over and reading your notepad
- People who invade
your personal space
might be trying
to intimidate you
- This is more than a space invasion — it violates our privacy. And it's especially rattling because we don't want to cover the notepad, since that suggests that our notes are sensitive or illicit.
- If you anticipate a "leaner," prepare by having meaningless notes on the top page of your pad. If you actually have to write (or read) anything, write it on (or read it from) an inside page. Flipping pages looks very natural.
- Mispronouncing your name repeatedly
- A variant of this tactic is to repeatedly forget a name. There's no point correcting those who do this regularly — they're either doing it intentionally, or they can't — or won't — remember names.
- You can't control the mispronouncer, but you can control yourself. Breathe. Compose yourself. Consider the incident a warning that you might be dealing with an intimidator.
Intimidators aim for an out-of-control emotional response. When you notice intimidation, let your emotions happen, and seek instead to control what you do when you feel your emotions. Focus on your breathing, or on a bit of wisdom. When you can maintain your balance, you gain access to your power. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Are You Taking on the Full Load?
- Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities that might not even be ours.
- Intimidation Tactics: Touching
- Workplace touching can be friendly, or it can be dangerous and intimidating. When touching is used to intimidate, it often works, because intimidators know how to select their targets. If you're targeted, what can you do?
- Filtered Perceptions
- How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?
- Ethical Influence: Part I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- Toxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Dissociative Anonymity
- Toxic conflict in teams disrupts relationships and interferes with (or prevents) accomplishment of the team's goals. It's difficult enough to manage toxic conflict in co-located teams, but in virtual teams, dissociative anonymity causes toxic conflict to be both more easily triggered and more difficult to resolve.
See also Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
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