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:
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- Grief is usually a private matter, but for many, September Eleventh is different because our grief can be centered in the workplace. On September Eleventh, give yourself permission to do what you need for yourself, and give others permission to do what they need for themselves. Here are some choices.
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- Peace's Pieces
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- Handling Heat: Part II
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- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion of control" — might provide explanations.
See also Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 29: Quips That Work at Work: Part 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. Available here and by RSS on April 29.
- And on May 6: Compulsive Talkers at Work:Part I
- Incessant, unending talking about things that the listener doesn't care about, already knows about, or can do nothing about is an irritating behavior that harms both talker and listener. What can we do about this? Available here and by RSS on May 6.
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