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:
- The Fallacy of the False Cause
- Although we sometimes make decisions with incomplete information, we do the best we can, given what we know. Sometimes, we make wrong decisions not because we have incomplete information, but because we make mistakes in how we reason about the information we do have.
- When It Really Counts, Be Positive
- When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.
- Begging the Question
- Begging the question is a common, usually undetected, rhetorical fallacy. It leads to unsupported conclusions and painful places we just can't live with. What can we do when it happens?
- Handling Heat: Part II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
- Top 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
- Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.
See also Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
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- When destructive conflict erupts, we usually hold responsible only the people directly involved. But the choices of others, and general circumstances, can be the real causes of destructive conflict. Available here and by RSS on October 7.
- And on October 14: Contextual Causes of Conflict: Part II
- Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie elsewhere. Available here and by RSS on October 14.
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