Please or Register to create posts and topics.

Attack & offend, then say "but that's OK" (Covert-aggression, Trump style)

12

Hey Matthew,

Interesting situation.

First, I'd like to consider the words alone, as they can be used for value-adding purposes as well.

ANALYZING WORDS

If we're talking about the words alone, this wouldn't have been a power-up or value-taking one.

What probably (probably, I wasn't there!) happened is that red guy noticed you brushed off the question the first time, and then he wondered:

Hmmm, maybe he ignored me on purpose, or doesn't want to talk about it?

At that point, more passive or submissive people would have just let it go and never asked again.
And they might have walked away thinking that you were very "buttoned up", or even that you were a bit rude.

But more assertive people and, in this case, positively assertive, would rather get to know the people they talk to, and see the issue more deeply.
I'd have done the same, albeit phrased it differently and without the condescending tone, of course.

So he asked you again, and gave you a way out in case you didn't wanna talk about it.

The provision of an easy way out for your was value adding, since:

  1. It protects your own privacy: "you're not forced to say, if you don't want"
  2. It protects your power: he is not trying to "impose" a reply
  3. Takes pressure off from you: by providing a way out already embedded in the question, it's far easier for you to say "yeah, actually I'd rather not share that"
  4. Maintains rapport in either case: in case you decide not to reply, it's not a major rapport-breaker, since he already said "it's OK if you don't want..."

To understand this dynamic, it's easier to imagine a more extreme case.
Like with a sexual-related question, for example.

See the difference:

Guy 1: Are you more of a relationship guy, or do you prefer sleeping around?

Wow!
That's a big one for people who are meeting in a professional setting.

But now, see the difference:

Guys 2: Are you more of a relationship guy man or more like sleeping around. And please guys feel free to tell me if you'd rather not share this kind of personal stuff. I like you guys and I like talking about everything when I enjoy the company, but I understand and respect people who don't want to talk about these more personal matters

How to answer that?

If he had said that to me, I would have personally replied something like:

Ehehe thanks for saying that man (and probably even touch his arm or put an hand on his back = I see your move, and appreciate it), and of course I can tell you what I studied (emphasis on "of course" = I'm quite an open guy, no nee to be so formal here, a stance that is reinforced by the initial laugh, as if to say "chill man, we're among friends here)

I might even add "I can even tell you how it was like, if you want to know", still with a smile, and just to reinforce the point that I'm not hiding anything, which is also an indirect invite to also be the same.

But that's me, and I tend to be quite open with people I meet and, I like them, to move quicker towards emotional intimacy -life's too short to stay distant and "professional" :)-.

WITH THE PATRONIZING TONE

Now, those same words with a patronizing tone become passive-aggressive.

So you read the situation correctly, and your move was a good one.

Unluckily, acquaintance made a dumb move of his own by taking sides so strongly, and he pushed you down with his reply, forming an (involuntary) alliance with red guy.
Using others to go meta can be a risk in that sense since they might either not understand the dynamics, not understand your intention, or simply prefer to side with the other person.

But you maneuvered very well around it. Champ-level coming up from behind to re-gain the leadership: well done.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thank you for this breakdown and insight!
I wasn't sure whether it was handled properly.
As such, I appreciate the feedback.

I do notice this way of asking questions to protect my privacy in another context:

Where are you from if I may ask?

Where do you stay if I may ask?
(or gauging comfort) Which direction are you heading towards?

These are also value-adding questions to let the other person decide whether to share.
Quite common among polite British folks.


How to Give People a Way Out Not to Share

This may be slight. I view these 2 sentences a bit differently:

1st sentence: And please guys feel free to tell me if you'd rather not share this kind of personal stuff.

2nd sentence: If you're not comfortable with saying, that's okay.

The 1st sentence gives the power to the other party to decide on whether to share personal stuff.
The 2nd sentence has a bit of a judgemental feel towards when it is okay to share and when not to share.
Not sure if my intuition is right in this instance.


Going Meta with Covert Aggressions
I wanted to go meta as an opportunity with my acquaintance on what I find okay and not okay. Sharing boundaries.
Though, as you have mentioned, it does happen quite often that people misconstrue the meta-meaning.

Surfacing seems like a safer option:

Him (Repeats the question with a smirk and patrionising tone): Yeah what did you study? If you're not comfortable with saying, that's okay.

Me (in a light tone): Why would I be uncomfortable with talking about what I studied? (Pregnant pause) My favourite topic was ...


Guideline for Sharing Information (Personal/Non-Personal)

I have not figured out a system about how much to share and often go by intuition whether to
1) Answer direct and share honestly  (my favoured approach, take more risks and find out chemistry/interests faster)
2) Frame it differently without disclosing personal information   (I like this person but something tells me to go slower)
3) Lie to build rapport to evaluate the situation  (sensing danger, in a new country, staying in Airbnb, questions on double standards)

Maybe this veers slightly off the course of this thread's topic.


Tone - Warm vs Sarcastic

I got curious about whether I identified the tone correctly.
I checked out this post about sarcastic tones on Quora. There was indeed
1) Slightly elongated syllables &
2) Pitch starting higher than average and gradually descending &
3) Smirk (uneven smile biased towards a side; just to clarify my visualisation)

Somehow I remember these nuances.
I tend to be quite perceptive/sensitive (maybe overly sensitive).
Maybe side effect of meditation and green tea.

Hi Matthew,

Yeah, for the "what and how much to share" better a new topic.

A few quick notes:

GRET ANALYSIS

Yes, you make a very good point.
The "if you're not comfortable, that's OK", slightly shifts the blame of not sharing on you, while my example keeps the blame on yourself if the group judges the topic to be unworthy / too much.

Quite a big difference, actually.
Of course, we're talking about words only, and in person words can be modulated with body language and voice tonality.
Tell my example with high-power, and you come across confident and people are even more likely to want to share. Use your friend's words with empathy and a touch of submissiveness (ie.: lowered head, full "no" hand gesticulation when you say "if you're not comfortable"), and it's very friendly and value-adding.

GOING META = EXPLAINING THE FULL DYNAMICS IN SIMPLE WORDS

Keep in mind that "going meta" is one of the most challenging techniques.

You went partially meta indeed, yet not full-on meta.

To be technically accurate, you answered to covert-aggression with a bit of covert aggression of your own (you didn't address him directly, plus you used sarcasm, which MAKES it difficult for him to reply without escalating or without looking touchy).
It was a good "ally with the victim and isolate the bully" power move aimed at cutting him out.
BUT, in this case it was called for and very befitting -as a matter of fact, it was a very good move (should give it a name, BTW, it's a relatively common and very effective technique)-.

And this why I say that one needs to learn the full spectrum of assertion and not to stay "stuck" on assertion: even passive aggression is sometimes called for.

With the sarcastic part, you did go slightly meta, but not "meta enough" to fully clarify the dynamics and allow everyone to be on the same page.
A full-on meta is difficult because you must explain the full dynamics, which sometimes can be not easy to explain, and explain them as simply as you can.

Sometimes you'll be dealing with relatively complex socio-dynamics that people either only ever understood subconsciously (and the least socially aware not even at a subconscious level), or that only some naturally talented people understand (women more often than men).

So with your explanation, you need to come down to the "lowest common denominator" in the group.

A full meta, in this case, would have been something like:

Wait a second man, I know you didn't mean it in a mean way (=save his face befre you even start, so you avoid making too heavy) but that wasn't really nice there.
Lemme explain exactly why.
You asked a question with words (emphasis here) but words are only a tiny part of commuincation, and the tone (emphasis) of your words was quite condescending, so that the total (emphasis) effect of your communication was... (and now you explain the real intent of his one-upping) 
(Also feel free to repeat what he said for ease or explanation, or make another example)
This is a covert-aggressive way of dealing with others, and I think that among us, we can deal with each other in a more uplifting way

Then he will probably defend or try to go under cover, while you continue on your meta-path, possibly by adding an example of proper communication, and then adding that "it's' all cool, no biggies, but since we're friends and I respect you, I wanted to address this".

That's just an example, you can then change something to make it stronger or more friendly/collaborative, depending on what you want to aim for.

Even better it would have been to set up your own meta, for example:

You: Why did you use that condescending tone?
Him: I didn't / what are you talking?
You: Yeah, yeah man, you did use a bit of a condescending tone. Let me explain...

This way it runs even more smoothly.

Still, even here, it's quite of a big shift in the interaction.

As you have already guessed and stated yourself, meta is unwieldy in many everyday situations.
It's great to draw boundaries, very good and sometimes even necessary with close and intimate relationships -and gives you big power and leadership points-, but in most light, superficial, or professional exchanges, it's better to go for something lighter.

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

I love how we are going meta on going meta.
And thanks for the detailed explanation with examples.

1st sentence: And please guys feel free to tell me if you'd rather not share this kind of personal stuff.
2nd sentence: If you're not comfortable with saying, that's okay.

Telling your version with confidence does sound very leader-like. The confidence sets the tone that it is okay to talk about this. Then delegating power to the people around to seek consensus, which builds a collaborative environment.

Interesting to think about that a touch of submissiveness for my friend's remark would be value-adding.
The submissiveness indicates easy-goingness and conveys an attitude of no-big-deal of the conversation topic being rejected.

Naming the Technqiue and Summary of How to Execute It

You went partially meta indeed, yet not full-on meta.

To be technically accurate, you answered to covert-aggression with a bit of covert aggression of your own (you didn't address him directly, plus you used sarcasm, which MAKES it difficult for him to reply without escalating or without looking touchy).
It was a good "ally with the victim and isolate the bully" power move aimed at cutting him out.
BUT, in this case it was called for and very befitting -as a matter of fact, it was a very good move (should give it a name, BTW, it's a relatively common and very effective technique)-.

This technique seems to match Throwing Someone Under the Bus, and this article outlines the steps:

  1. Social faux pas from the bus lover
  2. Hit him (socially)
  3. Move on
  4. .. And leave him on the outside with no way of hitting back

Alternative Names

On the name for this, maroon comes to mind like in the pirate movies.
"leave (someone) trapped and alone in an inaccessible place, especially an island."

Or sanction/embargo like how well-connected countries isolate and punish other countries who don't play by the pro-social, international rules of conduct.

Situations to Use It

It does sound like a befitting technique in many multi-party situations whenever someone steps out of line.

Recalling the one-upping technique to give power back to the barista example,

Him: I will have this and that. Sorry for taking so long. Thank you for your patience. (Suggesting she has no choice to wait there)

Me (Looking at the cashier): He takes his coffee very seriously! (implying that he took too much time to decide on the coffee and even had to ask so many questions)

Except that the covert aggression was directed mostly towards the cashier with some elements of value-taking from the people in the queue.

Regarding the example in the article Throwing Someone Under the Bus, the woman counters Donald Trump with such finesse.
Low effort and smooth. One of the best examples.

Her steps were

  1. Flash a fake smile
  2. Social slap (sarcasm)
  3. Cut him out

All happened within a split second.

Using Meta for Donald Trump's "Attack & Offend, then say it's okay"

Trump: we've done maybe a great job. What we haven't done a good job honestly is convincing people like you, because you're really quite impossible to convince (= you're biased, and maybe not intelligent enough to undersand) BUT THAT'S OK

The environment does sound too formal and professional to go meta.
And furthermore, Donald Trump is a more powerful person.

At the same time, it's quite a heavy discussion, so it can be good to draw light on unfounded, personal opinions & remarks to shift the conversation back to the topic rather than the individuals. This would frame Leslie as a critical thinker. But it does seem unwieldy and tough to execute on the spot.

Let's explore countering Donald Trump's technique in this situation by going meta to understand if it is appropriate:

Leslie: Wait a second. We may indeed have done a great job (build some rapport to avoid sounding too confrontational). But when you say "What we haven't done a good job honestly is convincing people like you" as in like myself, you are shifting our conversation from an objective discussion (play the game back that Donald is not intelligent enough to discuss openly with logic) on what is best for the people (ally with the American people) into a personal remark directed at me (shame him for making it personal).

Furthermore, saying "you're really quite impossible to convince" sets the frame that you have drawn an objective conclusion with facts and that I am not able to follow your line of thought. We have to address the assumptions that you have set out explicitly and implicity.

Let's go back to the results of the polls on how the government has dealt with the pandemic.

Probably you need to lift your hand in the air or say "hey, hey" if he interrupts your meta explanation.

Donald Trump is very dominant so he will most likely defend.
So this may result in an unproductive battle of frames and frame negotiation.

Great post, Matthew.


THROWING UNDER THE BUS

Yes, you're right, "throwing under the bus" maybe extended to cover this technique as well.
What the throwing under the bus doesn't necessarily include though is the alliance part.
So maybe as a sub-item of the "throwing under the bus" technique.


GOING META AGAINST TRUMP

I like your meta-attempt.

Since as you point out there is a huge power differential and journalists can easily be accused of talking too much instead of posing questions, I might cut out the "furthermore" part and jump straight back to "let's go back to the results".
It still stands on its own, it's concise, well-explained, and overall high-quality and high-power.

Stef has reacted to this post.
Stef
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
12
Processing...