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 Tweaking CC
- When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by exposing embarrassing information.
- Demanding Forgiveness
- Working together under stress, we do sometimes hurt each other. Delivering apologies is a skill critical to repairing those hurts and maintaining our relationships.
- Hurtful Clichés: Part 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.
- Animosity Patterns
- Animosity between two people at work is often attributed to "personality clashes." While sometimes people can't get along, animosity can also be a tool for accomplishing strictly political ends. Here's a short catalog of some of its uses.
- Social 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 Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 2: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part II
- When, in the presence of others, someone asks you "a simple yes or no" question, beware. Chances are that you're confronting a trap. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for dealing with the yes-or-no trap. Available here and by RSS on September 2.
- And on September 9: Holding Back: Part I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior? Available here and by RSS on September 9.
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