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Quick note on this:

Quote from Bel on November 30, 2022, 2:18 pm
Quote from Bel on November 30, 2022, 11:41 am


Responding publicly when my professional behavior is implicitly put into question

A client sent me an email asking me if I had news on something she had asked of me a week ago. And she put in copy two other people in the company.

I had already responded by email 6 days ago, but she has obviously not received it.

Before TPM, I would have responded to her privately mentioning that I had already sent her an email, and then I would have responded publicly to all three by sending my answer as of now (without showing to the other two that I had already answered).

In other words, I would have assumed on myself the “public cost” of her not receiving my email.

Now I knew better: I answered to all three that I had answered 6 days ago, I mentioned I was forwarding it again, and kindly asked for confirmation of receipt. Then I thanked her when I received this confirmation.

There are some situations where a small “damage” to the other party is unavoidable if I am not at fault and want to incur no damage myself.

On second thought, maybe here my previous behavior wasn't totally wrong. I need to reflect about this. Maybe a midway stance between the two behaviors is better.

Generally speaking...

You did well.

I've rarely seen people "not receiving emails".
They either missed them, or failed to check the spam folder.

It was her mistake not to see the email, her mistake not to double-check before pinging you, her mistake to involve two more people and "raise the stakes" of whoever was "in the wrong", and her mistake not to provide you (and her) with an easy out -ie. "may be I missed"-.

Your time is valuable, it's not up to you to use your time and effort to undo her mistake.

Exceptions always apply of course.

So it was OK...

Unless this project is huge for you, in which case the extra work may be justified, and of course...

Unless it's the boss, the highest power person or the 3, and/or the decision maker on legal expenses.

In that case, save his face and power protect him and do the private answer to CYA, and then the public Cover His Ass (which could become a new acronym part of power protecting, BTW 🙂 ) and take the "blame" (the costs are a lot lower if you're taking the blame with the underlings anyway).

A straight eagle may then reply to you with the other 2 in the loop and "make you whole again" by taking the blame.
But alas, don't expect many to do that 🙂

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Thank you Lucio,

that is crystal clear and very helpful. So I think I chose the right solution in this case, in which she was the lower-level employee.

Now I understand why my former boss sometimes responded with very stark and even nasty emails to lower level employees trying to one-up him.

His calculation was not wrong, it was the execution that was too strong. Because a lower-level employee one-upping the external consultant makes the latter lose status and respect with all other higher-ups, when it is done publicly. While, inversely, an external consultant putting in place a lower-level employee is not going to produce significant consequences with higher-ups of the client.

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Malicious manipulation power move: faking an inexistent majority by splitting "one party" into "two people" to pile up social pressure
From Lucio's comment on the recent entry in Mats G's journal:
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on December 1, 2022, 4:32 am

Divide & conquer

Albeit it was 2 high school students, it was still 2 vs 1.

Either by controlling the interaction more assertively, as Ali said, or, potentially, even physically.

For example, you could have refused to discuss the failing grade with the student who passed.

I remember a similar situation where I made an agreement for collaboration with another law firm composed of two lawyers.

Albeit they were one party, the dynamics they created were these:

one of them would send proposals to me and to his colleague, and his colleague (who was party of the same law firm) would answer "yes, ok for me" in writing.

That was deliberately intended to fake the impression of them being "two against one".

Now my no's were more difficult for me, as both of them (who were really just one party) were in agreement, and I was painted as the unreasonable lone dissenter.

This move is so nasty that, I think, if I ever will find myself in a similar situation I will demand - as a pre-condition to any cooperation - that a single point of contact is designated, and that only that point of contact will be able to communicate with me on all material matters.

I remember that, when I called off the agreement by mentioning other nasty things they did, the lower-level person lamented exactly that, in one case, I had "not called him and only spoken with the other".

Which now makes it clear for me that they had planned this as a malicious power move from the start.

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Lucio Buffalmano

Malicious fake triangulation meant to create discord/rifts between two parties

One of the things some dark triads do is take triangulation to the next level.

While normal nasty people triangulate while referring to a person things, that the originator said, that are somewhat "true", these people deliberately provoke the originator into saying things about the other party that can be then used to create a rift between the two "victims".

Case 1

The dark triad will approach a person in a work setting and say things like:

Dark triad: Didn't Jim say that the boss handled the recent crisis in an impeccable way?

Jules: I don't know, I didn't hear him say that.

Then later the dark triad will go to the boss and make a subtle comment about Jim thinking the recent crisis wasn't handled well. And if push comes to shove, the dark triad will pin the blame on Jules as the referrer of Jim's thinking.

If the boss (or someone else) goes to Jim, and tells him that Jules said that, Jim will think Jules is the bad guy.

If Jules is blamed by Jim for telling a lie, and Jules falls into defending ("I didn't say that, I just said you didn't say anything!") he will sound guilty by defending! And the nugget of truth in the situation will somewhat validate the dark triad's original triangulation.

And this is in the context of a generally manipulative behavior by the dark triad.

Case 2

Another take on this that I personally experienced is deliberately creating misunderstandings between two people about a course of action:

Boss: Jules, tell Jim that he should do this for me, but if he can't, then handle it yourself. He's always full of work that guy!


Jules: Jim, boss asked for you to do this for him, but since I know you are full of work, don't worry, I'll handle it.

Jim: Are you sure? It's no problem for me...

Jules: Yes, I'll do it.

Jim: OK then.


Boss: (to Jim) Jim, what the fuck?!? If I ask for you to do this, you can't leave it to Jules, you know he'll fuck up! How do you dare not do what I ask of you? I told Jules clearly to ask you to do it!!!

I was Jim in this case.

This is repeated over and over and over in many different ways, and effectively destroys trust and relationships in the workplace (or in families, or social groups) between Jules and Jim.

Case 3

Yet another example is drilling down into a close relative's mind that a person has done a nasty thing, maybe by using triangular guilt tripping:

Triangulator: Jim, I can't believe Jules did this! Can you believe it? (repeated over and over and over while projecting anger on Jim)

Later, with all three present:

Jim: Jules, you are really nasty and you did this and whatever!

Jules: What??? That's not true! I didn't ...

Triangulator: (taking publicly the part of the grown-up higher level person): Guys, I believe you should let go at a certain point, no use continuing to discuss things. This is a party, for pity's sake...

Caveat: my "imagined phrases" of dark triads are too explicit. They are usually much more subtle...

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Lucio Buffalmano
Quote from Bel on December 1, 2022, 7:30 pm

Thank you Lucio,

that is crystal clear and very helpful. So I think I chose the right solution in this case, in which she was the lower-level employee.

Now I understand why my former boss sometimes responded with very stark and even nasty emails to lower level employees trying to one-up him.

His calculation was not wrong, it was the execution that was too strong. Because a lower-level employee one-upping the external consultant makes the latter lose status and respect with all other higher-ups, when it is done publicly. While, inversely, an external consultant putting in place a lower-level employee is not going to produce significant consequences with higher-ups of the client.

Yeah, that may be one of the ways to recognize dark triad individuals: how they behave with lower-power individuals (people for whom they sometimes even have contempt for).


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Bel, thank you for sharing this man.

There's really a ton of golden stuff here.

I linked both of your latest posts from the "dictionary of power dynamics".

The "divide and conquer" I put under "ganging up", which is basically the other face of the divide and conquer coin.

And the triangulation examples are fantastic.
I'm thinking of all this could made for a much better book on manipulation than anything available on the market (which tend to address more like the "more obvious cases").

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Thank you, Lucio. And thanks to Mats for his great post on his journal!

It's only thanks to sharing thoughts on these dark triads manipulation that I'm able to reconstruct what happened.

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Mats G
Some updates:
Group of potential clients including one who got upset at me came back 
Quote from Bel on November 28, 2022, 11:04 am
Quote from Bel on November 15, 2022, 8:57 pm

I have had another client aggress me verbally in front of a group today.

I tried to handle it as best as I could, but am unsure whether I did a good job. This thing left me with a bad aftertaste.

The brief story is that I had a videocall with a group of clients who asked for my assistance in a civil dispute in which they are likely to be drawn in.

I had made a preliminary study of the (very complex) case on the basis of the documents they had sent me, and arranged this call to discuss with them my feeling for how to proceed.

The basics are that they engaged a company to do several engineering projects functional to building works, and then as the thing went on they "lost faith" in the works company. And they closed the relationship abruptly by using an excuse.

So my first professional thinking about the likeliest outcome is: they are going to pay at least some of what was done. Maybe not all, maybe not so high, but the work was done.

On the call I (think I) power-protected, mentioned this was a first impression susceptible to being modified as my work progressed, and so on, and then I told them that at this time the most likely outcome was unpredictable, as there were several troubling circumstances, most notably on the basis of what was written in a specific contract. I told them we had various defenses, but none of them was the silver bullet, and this was a case of constructing a story. It could work, but the outcome was not predictable and the case was very complex.

I think I tried to subcommunicate, and maybe I even said it - as gently as I could -, that there is a definite risk of losing here. And the amount involved is very significant.

I didn't say it out loud because they had managed all this big relationship by themselves, and - to me - they made several mistakes. Then they came to me when the damage was done.

But from my former experiences, telling this to a client explicitly never ends well. So I was trying also to "prepare the ground" to later be able to vary my estimation of the outcome, one way or the other (though I frankly think they boxed thesmselves in a very big and very losing case).

Back to the call: so I told them that it was, first, important for us to arrive at a likely estimation of the real value of the case. Which, they told me, the counterpart grossly exaggerated. Good, I told them, but we need expert opinion on this.

Then, on the basis of the likeliest value, it could make sense to try to avoid the lawsuit altogether by trying to reach a settlement for half that value (based on the fact that the outcome is - currently - difficult to predict, and this was probably clear to the counterpart as well).

Then one of them suddently went like this:

Client: I don't understand if we're talking strategy here.

Me: We are talking strategy.

Client: Then please limit yourself to doing the lawyer, and let us think about the strategy.

Me: Well, strategy is part of doing the lawyer's work.

Client: No you should defend us, and we/I do the strategy which I'm perfectly capable of doing myself. Otherwise we're wasting time here.

Me: I beg your pardon: I believe discussing this, and letting you know what is the situation and the likeliest risk at this moment, is a necessary step of doing my job. It is my duty, not a nuisance. Because you should know the risks involved. And then of course, if you decide to charge full speed ahead, we can do that, but you know the risks and can evaluate the situation from a clearer point of view. And will not be surprised if the outcome is not favorable.

And of course, if we have to defend, we will spend every possible defense. But we first need to talk things as they are, to be able to decide how to go on with full knowledge.

I did what I could, but I'm afraid I didn't react strong enough. Especially because there were more people on the call, all potential clients.

I also have a feeling of not wanting to send this particular client Christmas wishes anymore. He was really too nasty.

I think (now, I unfortunately didn't realize beforehand that this was the case) that he felt responsible for the situation that generated the lawsuit (he had brought in a particular person to the others, and this in turn caused the dispute to arise).

But I don't know how I could have handled this better, apart maybe from more power protecting him (eg: these things happen frequently, they are very common, and so on, to try to not make him feel "more responsible" for the possible bad outcome I was suggesting is possible).

On the other hand, it's possible he fully knew they were risking, but was hoping (unconscioulsy) he could make me the "fall guy". This suggests, if they are called into a lawsuit and I decide to proceed (which I should think about), that I put in the engagement a clear warning that the case is very complex and a negative judgment is possible.

BTW: this is the biggest case I am handling after I left my former law firm. So it's also possible this person was "testing" me to see if he could keep faith in me as his attorney

Two weeks have passed and I have not heard anymore from these people.

I formerly used to believe that specific isolated "mistakes" on my part could cost me relationships. That if I made a "mistake", people could go away.

I understand this was not a healthy belief, or even what normally happens. But it was difficult to change belief when one was living in a world where this seemed to happen continually.

I think two things may now be happening here:

  • either I may be continuing to shed people who were just takers, and used to engage me as a lawyer only because I was naive and low-cost;
  • or I may be continuing to do something "bad" that I'm unaware of, that is driving people away.

Either case, I have no choice but to press forward and see if I can understand what's happening.

This group of people came back to me; so it was only a matter of waiting and not putting pressure on them.

Manipulative “friend” gets paid due to my help and disappears
Quote from Bel on November 1, 2022, 12:57 pm
Update on this:
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on October 31, 2022, 3:04 am

Possible solution for your manipulative "friend"



(My involvement ended with the case resolution)

Technically, it's not my task to chase the payment, which can be a tedious and long process (add what it may require from a legal perspective).

It's a separate task and usually comes with a separate billing agreement.

But because of our ties, I decided to land you a hand and see what I can do in my spare time.

Dinner on you :).

Then, of course, never go for that dinner if you don't like him.

But the point is that now the expectations and who's giving/taking are clear.


I sent him an email substantially as Lucio suggested, and this is his (totally unexpected and to me frankly incredible) response:

Him: Hi Bel,

I didn't think that even in front of an order they could do as they like or in any case delay the compensation, darn.

In any case of course for the dinner you are my guest 😉 so it is also an occasion to see each other again.

Thank you so much keep me updated.


I am simply speechless, don't know what to say.

Instead of being annoyed, he is now more kind and warm.

Lucio, I owe you a dinner.

I helped this guy finally get paid, he sent to me an email where he wrote “thank you, now we’ll arrange the dinner”, and then he disappeared.

As expected. But at long last I’m free of this guy and he still owes me a dinner 🙂

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I believe I finally solved a big professional question mark in my mind:

How to interpret when clients go silent after I send them out-of-court work

This is related to invoicing and getting paid, and also to whether to “ask for updates” to clients where I do not have direct visibility of the outcome.

Example: I send a contract draft to a client, and then I don’t know if the contract got signed or not.

Or, a negotiation starts, client asks me how to answer the counterpart’s proposals, and then I hear no more.

Solution: (almost) always interpret silence on the part of the client as proof that work was useful and successful 

Lawyering is one of the professional activities where you can’t be sure of the final result, as it often involves “fighting” or negotiating.

But, from all past accumulated experience and from my learning here, I now understand that the only feasible high-power solution is to interpret silence on the part of a client as proof that work was useful (or that, in any case, the client is satisfied).


- if it weren’t, the client would still have the issue I helped to solve, and would definitely come back;

- not all clients update their lawyer with the final result, due to a myriad reasons;

- asking the client to update, with the exception of very limited, established-trust situations, will probably be interpreted as chasing work, insecurity or neediness;

- asking the client to update subcommunicates not being busy;

- a lawyer booming with work would just assume the client will be back if needed, and if not, that all went well;

- asking the client to update probably also subcommunicates being insecure about the “goodness” of the work, and thus bears the risk of “reversing the professional relationship” by “asking to receive assurances from the client”.

In fact, I understand that in some cases silence from clients is even more proof of a good result and satisfaction than if clients had come back to tell me.


- some clients (probably most high-power folks, who go places in life) are busy, and don’t want to waste time unless necessary (ie unless the issue is still there);

- some others do not update in case of a particularly good result because they may even fear having to pay “more”!

This principle also entails that invoicing after hearing no more from the client is the only sensible thing to do.

And it solves a big conundrum in my mind.

Just for my future self, recent proof of the above:

- I had asked for updates to a manipulative client who had stopped responding, and received no answer; I then waived my fees thinking something was amiss; he took it and ran;

- I asked for an update to another more established-trust client, and he then asked me if I had been paid (ie my ask triggered in the client the idea that I was exposing a “problem” on my side);

- I didn’t ask for updates at all in a recent situation which I managed higher-power from the start; I just sent my invoice, and the client thanked me profusely even though I have not concerned myself to ask if the outcome had been as desired.

How to frame those limited cases where one asks for an update

A related principle:

- in those limited cases where the right thing to do is to remind the client of a deadline or ask for an update, this should only be done once, and also it should be done while subcommunicating the value of the personal aspects of the relationship.

This is because those personal aspects are precisely what can justify (or even impose) to act contrary to the general idea above.

In other words, the other person should know the ask is out of personal caring (as it is), and not due to being chase-y, insecure or not busy.

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An unresponsive bank employee

I have been dealing with a specific bank in the context of work for an inheritance matter. The bank has been generally unresponsive and slow.

Recently a particular bond expired. So I sent an email to this bank employee to ask for an appointment to collect the proceeds.

This is the exchange:

Me: Good evening Ms. X,

I hope you are good.

I make reference to ... and ask if you can let me have, if necessary via appointment at your bank, the proceeds from the XWZ bond that expired on ...


To which she replied:

Her: Good day Bel,

I am back to work now after a month of sick leave... you need to come to get the proceeds via wire or check, don't know, what you need, when could be suitable for you? payments only on mornings...

And this is my further response:

Me: Good day X, (less formal tone as she did with me above)

I am sorry, I hope everything is ok now. (acknowledge the fact that she was sick for a month)

I could pass by the bank on day x in the morning, would it be ok?

I get no answer. Day x comes.

I decide to just go to the bank, the day after "day x" (that I had proposed to her).

As I am waiting in line, she (who had been outside getting coffee) passes by me. I have the feeling she is trying to ignore me.

Me: Hello Ms. X!

Her: Oh hello Bel!

Me: At the end I decided to just come here.

Her: Yes, because I didn't answer you.

I say nothing in response.

Later, I thought my saying nothing was best, since she was basically self-demeaning herself by saying she had not answered my request with other customers nearby.

Her: Only thing, you need to wait in line since you don't have an appointment.

Me: No problem, the important thing is that you meet me...

I then get inside and am able to do what I came for.

When saying goodbye I decide to call her with her title, since she is in her work environment (I picked this up from a client being formal with me when in front of other people):

Me: Goodbye Ms. X.

Her: Goodbye Bel. (she went for less formal, but I don't think I lost anything here)

I move around the corner and linger a bit to put documents in my bag.

Her: (turning the corner) Oh my god Bel, you scared me!

Me: I was just standing here...

Then I exited.

So the decision to bypass her unresponsiveness and go directly seems to have worked.

In general, I have noticed all the employees of the bank have been more cordial with me since I started studying and applying PU.

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