Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 33;   August 19, 2015: When the Answer Isn't the Point: II

When the Answer Isn't the Point: II

by

Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.
A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during training

A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of a M-198 howitzer during live fire and maneuver training of the 11th Marine Regiment on November 20, 2000, in the United Arab Emirates. One class of artillery tactics is known as harassing fire. The goal of harassing fire is to degrade enemy physical and psychological resources by firing at opposing positions at random points and at random times over long periods, thus limiting opponents' ability to rest and resupply. It is a tactic that relies for its success, in part, on ego depletion. Photo by Corporal Branden P. O'Brien, U.S. Marine Corps, courtesy Wikimedia.

In Part I of our exploration of behavioral assessment at work, we examined some relatively innocuous attributes of questions — ambiguity, arcane vocabulary, erroneous assumptions, and inappropriate language. But some people ask questions that are intended to rattle the person questioned, to assess their ability to maintain composure, or to reduce their stature. That is, in a public setting, in a strategy that relies for its effectiveness on ego depletion, the questioner might intend to cause the person questioned to lose composure, leading to regrettably embarrassing behavior, or worse.

Here are some of the hostile approaches in use. As in Part I, we use Alpha as the name of the Asker (a female), and Tango as the name of the Target (a male).

If the question contains insinuations about others…
Does Tango defend people in their absence? Does he ask about the details of the insinuation? Is he interested in gossip?
Does Tango consider all possibilities? Alpha might be trying to discover how Tango handles invitations to gossip. Or perhaps she merely seeks information.
If it's insulting…
Does Tango take offense? Or does he ask Alpha whether she is aware of the offense, before enlightening her?
Alpha might be trying to determine whether, how, or how effectively Tango stands up for himself.
If it's already been asked repeatedly…
Is Tango Some people ask questions that
are intended to rattle the person
questioned, to assess their ability
to maintain composure, or to
reduce their stature
impatient? Does he lose control when Alpha repeats the same question in different forms? Or does he ask Alpha what was missing from his previous answers?
Asking the same question repeatedly, in different forms, can be annoying, because it can indicate distrust, suspicion, or disrespect for Tango's time. How does Tango deal with repetitive questioning?
If the questioner interrupts repeatedly…
After Alpha interrupts Tango in mid-response, can Tango resume and smoothly continue his response? Or does he have trouble remembering what he was about to say?
Mental quickness and excellent short-term memory can be valuable assets. How quick is Tango? How good is his memory? Can he thrive in contention with the sharp minds on this team?
If the questioner asks four questions at once…
As Tango responds, can he remember all four questions? This is another test of memory and mental agility.
Combining this test with repeated interruptions can reveal much about Tango's abilities under pressure, but only if Alpha can keep the four questions straight herself.
If it's arrogant and condescending
When Alpha's manner is brusque, condescending, or disrespectful, does Tango address the affront? How? Can he disarm her?
Knowing Tango's abilities in contentious situations can be useful to Alpha if she must deal with him in the future, whether as friend or foe.

There are no right answers. Much depends on the relationship between Alpha and Tango. But Tango can probably achieve better results by preparing for these situations than he can achieve unprepared. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenyIFANwtrQpfupsCvner@ChacmgGkKDikuQkSFBmXoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
Gen. George Casey, Dep. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz, and Sec. Donald RumsfeldDismissive Gestures: I
Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated, we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a catalog of non-verbal insults.
RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.
The George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson River between Manhattan and Fort Lee, New JerseyThe End-to-End Cost of Meetings: II
Few of us realize where all the costs of meetings really are. Some of the most significant cost sources are outside the meeting room. Here's Part II of our exploration of meeting costs.
A particularly complicated but well-ordered utility poleThe Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: II
Complex organizational processes can delay action. They can set people against one other and prevent organizations from achieving their objectives. In this Part II of our examination of these complexities, we look into what keeps processes complicated, and how to deal with them.

See also Workplace Politics and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenipLlbyNXEbudIJpwner@ChacCNjRMDNNofiahwPvoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.