Ellen held up her hand, palm facing Jim. He stopped talking. She rose, walked to her door, and closed it. The conversation would probably get a little tricky, and she wanted privacy. She returned to her chair and sat.
"He'll probably ask when you'll get things back in control," she said.
"But they're in control now," Jim replied. "Oh," he continued, "the loaded question."
Ellen has just reminded Jim of a tactic he might face in an upcoming meeting — the loaded question. It's one of many nasty questions we ask each other, not to elicit information, but to gain advantage. Here's part one of a little catalog of nasty questions.
- Ambush questions
- Asked in public, either by email or by voice, in meetings or telemeetings, this is a pressure tactic, designed to place the target in a compromising position in the view of others. See "The Tweaking CC," Point Lookout for February 7, 2001, for more.
- Preparation helps, but be willing to try the "reverse ambush." Leave out some important information, and when a would-be attacker tries to ambush you about it, you'll be ready.
- Leading questions
- Leading questions contain instructions as to the "correct" answer. For instance, "You'll get your monthly report to me on time this month, won't you?" is a leading question, while "When will you get me your report this month?" is open-ended.
- Leading questions are especially useful to the questioner when the questioner has organizational power over the target. But unless the "correct" answer is a fit, give an "incorrect" answer. See "Saying No: A Tutorial for Project Managers" for more.
- Loaded questions
- The loaded question
contains a presupposition
to which the target
probably wouldn't agree
- Loaded questions contain presuppositions to which the respondent probably wouldn't agree. To address the presupposition, the respondent must first decline to answer, which can look evasive, eroding the respondent's credibility. An example: "When do you think you'll be able to bring this project under control?" This presupposes that the project is out of control.
- Consider pointing out the presupposition as part of your response. See "The Power of Presuppositions," Point Lookout for September 1, 2004, for more.
- Implied accusations
- Questions can be implied accusations when they're specific enough to cause listeners to believe that there must be evidence for the accusation. For instance, when a project is late due to a late delivery by a supplier, an implied accusation might be, "Is that vendor's sales rep your brother-in-law?" The implied accusation is that nepotism is a contributing factor in the persistence of the problem.
- Don't be afraid of looking defensive when you actually are playing defense. The cost of letting things slide is even higher. Implied accusations must be dealt with firmly and immediately. Consider raising questions about the legitimacy of the issue, and the intentions of the questioner. See "Dealing with Implied Accusations," Point Lookout for January 10, 2001, for more.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Staying in Abilene
- A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort
that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens
when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
- 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.
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine
which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's
ability to collaborate.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.