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:
- Getting Home in Time for Dinner
- Some of us are fortunate — we work for companies that make sure they have enough people to do all the work. Yet, we still work too many hours. We overwork ourselves by taking on too much, and then we work long hours to get it done. If you're an over-worker, what can you do about it?
- Hot and Cold Running People
- Do you consider yourself a body linguist? Can you tell what people are thinking just by looking at gestures and postures? Think again. Body language is much more complex and ambiguous than many would have us believe.
- Are You Micromanaging Yourself?
- Feeling distrusted and undervalued, we often attribute the problem to the behavior of others — to the micromanager who might be mistreating us. We tend not to examine our own contributions to the difficulty. Are you micromanaging yourself?
- On Advice and Responsibility
- Being asked for advice can be an affirming experience, but actually giving advice can sometimes entail risk. How can this happen, and what choices do we have?
- Coercion by Presupposition
- Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.
See also Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 11: Historical Debates at Work
- One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates. Available here and by RSS on March 11.
- And on March 18: Suspense Is Not Your Friend
- Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated ideas effectively, avoid suspense. Available here and by RSS on March 18.
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