Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 9;   February 27, 2008: Responding to Threats: II

Responding to Threats: II

by

When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.

Classifying threats helps us evaluate our possible choices of responses. In Part I of this little catalog of threat types, we looked at the Non-Violent Physical threat and No-Dessert-For-You — the implied withdrawal of desirable privileges or resources. The former is a direct threat; the latter is more indirect.

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs). This tornado struck in and near Enid, Oklahoma, on June 5, 1966. The path of destruction of a tornado is usually narrow, compared to the scale of most meteorological phenomena. Observing a tornado from a distance, therefore, is usually not dangerous, unless one is standing in its path. In some ways, direct threats are like tornadoes that are headed your way but haven't yet arrived: you can see them coming, and they can cause serious damage when actualized. Our knowledge of tornadoes suggests an effective way to deal with threats: get out of the way, and don't build your house in Tornado Alley. Photo by Leo Ainsworth, courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library, OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

A direct threat is "uncloaked." It's delivered personally, without apology or qualification, and with emotional force. An indirect threat is dressed up or disguised in some way so as to insulate the threatener from any consequences of having issued a threat. Direct threats expressly or implicitly suggest harm to the target. For instance, "If you don't think you can get this done, we'll find someone who can."

In everyday conversation, we sometime use the term threat as if it meant empty threat. That is, we think of threats as risks that are unlikely to materialize. We say, "The sky looks threatening, but I don't think it will actually rain." In this discussion, threat means something more. It is an expression of intent to harm, and it is to be taken seriously.

A threat's degree of directness can be a valuable guide for choosing a response, because it can indicate the state of mind of the threatener. Directness can also reveal how vulnerable or powerful threateners feel, or how clever, or how resourceful they are. Most important, the directness of a threat can suggest how the threatener might respond to your response.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with direct threats.

The effectiveness of threats derives in part from fear, but direct threats rely on fear almost entirely. In a state of fear, the target is less likely to think clearly, and more likely to react reflexively. Users of direct threats seek precisely this advantage, and they're probably unaccustomed to dealing with — or lack the skill to deal with — those who are unafraid.

A threat's degree of
directness can be a
valuable guide for
choosing a response
Yet, those who threaten directly aren't afraid of being caught using threats. That this feeling of invulnerability might be delusional makes no difference to targets — the threats will sting just the same.

Challenging direct threats directly is unlikely to succeed. If the threatener actually is invulnerable, direct challenges will likely fail. And even if the threatener is bluffing, he or she probably won't back down, because retreat would render future threats ineffective.

If you know that you work for someone who uses direct threats, prepare yourself. Don't wait for further direct threats to materialize. Be ready to resign your position at any time. Preparedness liberates you — it takes the sting out of threats. And if you start searching for a new job, you just might find something better.

In the next part of this series on threats, we'll examine indirect threats. That's a promise. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: What, Why, and How  Next Issue

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