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Five Points Verbal Response Test

News Tactful communication Negative Politeness Socratic Questions Diplomatic Communication Corporate bullshit as a communication method
Six ways to say No and mean it Fighting direct verbal abuse Dealing With Negative Criticism   Soft propaganda Seven Typical Corporate Email Errors
Communication with Corporate Psychopaths Communication with Micromanagers Gabor's Checklist Overtalkativeness as addiction Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand quotes Etc

There is no reason to rush any reply when we talk with a corporate psychopath. This is actually not a talk. It is a mixture of interrogation with provocation and you need to be vigilant against dirty tricks. This five point test permits to avoid the trivial errors. To get used to it you might wish to assign each question to a finger and close fingers one by one as you check them.

  1. [Deflection test] Should you defect the question as inappropriate.
  2. [Pause test] Did you made a proper pause (10 seconds is minimum). In response needed at all ? (silence is gold). If needed if can you ask to release the question to ensure you understand it correctly and to have time to prepare for the answer (Stanislavski used to say "the greater the artists the greater the pause" ;-)
  3. [Negative politeness test] Is your response non-confrontational? Does it contain sarcasm, "always/never" language. Do not try to communicate your emotional state. It does not matter.
  4. [Factuality test] Are you trying to communicate the facts and only the facts? Convey only one thought in each sentence. Do not provide extra information as it often can serve as ammunition against you.
  5. [Information leakage test] Do you volunteer sensitive information to the psychopath. Psychopaths are great in playing weak spots and provoking you to be frank. Never do this. People have moments of weakness communicating with a psychopath (Stockholm syndrome ?) and in such moment can tell the other party things about which they can regret for a long time. Think about psychopath as other, evil specie of humans: they really are.
Mr. Gabor offers these tips for using TACTFUL conversations:

DOs and DON'Ts to Accompany T-A-C-T-F-U-L Strategies

For example you're arguing with a peer about why he consistently shoots down your ideas. Or your  boss often makes sarcastic remarks to you. Those are example of difficult interactions and iIf you don't deal with them skillfully, they may escalate to highly undesirable outcomes—strained relationships, wasted time, and declining performance.


Extended list

A helpful tip that simplifies communication with corporate psychopath is to imagine yourself in torture camera with an inquisitor presiding questioning you. It's actually pretty close analogy as he/she is you boss and being a sadist enjoy inflicting pain. Other useful analogy that can help is deposition in a court. Here you can find several useful links on the Internet. You can also try to imitate a robot -- that a very good counter play against corporate psychopath because he is also a robot that assumed human mask -- everything is false in him/her, emotions, statement of qualification, facts of biography he/she carefully reveled, etc.

  1. Listen carefully to every question and make a pause before the answer. Always (I mean always !) pause 5 or 10 seconds before answering, make sure you understand the question, think it over, and only then try to answer; then be direct with your answer. Those 5-10 seconds can save you from a lot of troubles.
  2. Short answers are the best. Do not offer any information you more than asked of you. Answer only the question asked of you, and then stop talking. Do not add any commentary. One of the oldest (and most effective) techniques is, once you've given your answer, the lawyer looks at you as if to say: "Keep talking." Do not fall into this trap. Just look back at him calmly and politely as if to say: "I am waiting on you to ask another question."
  3. Systematically use pause before an answer to weight and reassess your options. Do not jump to answer or reply to anything. Do not attempt to be smooth. This is not a conversation. You might use you watches to ensure proper pause before an answer or to keep silence and back off if you speak too much.
  4. Be very polite and very formal, practice negative politeness. Always say: "Yes, sir," or "No, ma'am," ....
  5. Never argue, just state the facts. Avoid Absolute Words. You are well advised to avoid, where possible, absolute words such as "always" and "never." Absolute words are an invitation to additional questions: never say "never"...
  6. Don’t elaborate or volunteer any information. Volunteering information can be one of the biggest mistakes an expert makes at deposition. Generally, an expert should answer only the questions she is asked and not volunteer information. The volunteering of information will almost always result in new lines of cross-examination. It may also disclose information to which counsel otherwise never would have become privy.

  7. Do not, for any reason, exhibit hostile feelings or aggression towards corporate psychopath.
  8. Do not tell jokes or say anything sarcastic...
  9. Keep your composure, maintain your focus and your credibility. Ignore emotional tantrums from psychopath as they are usually carefully planned provocations. They are provocations and are aimed squarely to get you out of balance so that you make a mistake or blunder.
  10. Ask for a break, or ask permission to bring coffee if you feel the need to expend some emotion or situation got out of control

Overcoming barriers

You might avoid dealing with difficult interactions because certain barriers get in the way. The table below shows examples of these barriers and explains how to remove them so that you can more effectively manage difficult interactions.

Barrier Ways to clear or lower the barrier
Fear of interpersonal conflict Acknowledge that although conflict can be uncomfortable, it's a fact of life. Focus on the positive outcomes of addressing conflict and minimize "intrusions" into other personal space.
Failure to recognize that you have a problem with another person in the workplace Consider acknowledging that these relationships are hampered by difficult interactions.
The belief that a difficult interaction is the fault of others Acknowledge your own role. Identify what you can do to improve the situation.
The conviction that other people won't change no matter what you do Remind yourself that you're not trying to change another person you just want to alter the way the two of you interact. You can also consider changing your own behavior.
Desire to accept the status quo because you're not prepared to manage the outcome of the situation Evaluate whether the risks of the difficult interaction are worth the potential benefits. If they are and you chances look OK, map out a plan and carry it out slowly but steadly. Don't rush. Cooking a goom meal requres time.  
The belief that the problem will resolve itself Most interpersonal problems don't resolve themselves but distincing from the person who couce problems can dinimish the intencity of the conflict.

Despite the challenges inherent in dealing with difficult interactions, it's essential to recognize situations that need addressing—and to manage them promptly and effectively. If you don't, difficult interactions may escalate to a level that destroys workplace relationships.

Difficult interactions in the workplace can have a variety of causes. One way to deal with them is to try to classiy them based of the follwoign catagories (HBR):

Differences in positions and interests

Differences in perceptions, motivations, and style

Differences in life experiences and cultural background

Note 1: Paranoid incompetent micromanagers (PIMM), who successfully combine tight control of minute details/procedures used in performing assignments with compete incompetence are often called "control freaks" (CF). This category of micromanagers represents really nasty beasts of IT jungles who tend to completely paralyze their victims.  They are dangerous corporate psychopaths completely different from PHB on Dilbert cartoons.

In this set of pages that include

we will mainly address this menace. 

Note 2: Good advice about the topic is difficult to come by and depends on your concrete situation: take any recommendations with a grain of salt.

Note 3: Most people dramatically overestimate their communication abilities. As a raw estimate consider them approximately equal to your abilities to play chess.

Note 4: Communication with corporate psychopath cannot be spontaneous.  It should be very formal and you should never avoid the possibility to ask the question or statement to be repeated to gain some time.

Note 5: PIMM often use term "improper communication" or "bad teamwork" for pigeonholing. Be prepared to those false accusation and calmly point out on the attempt to pigeonholing:

Jump to: navigation, search

Pigeonholing is a term used to describe processes that attempt to classify disparate entities into a small number of categories (usually, mutually exclusive ones).

The expression usually carries connotations of criticism, implying that the classification scheme referred to does not adequately reflect the entities being sorted, or that it is based on stereotypes.

Common failings of pigeonholing schemes include:

  • Categories are poorly defined (often because they are subjective).
  • Entities may be suited to more than one category. Example: rhubarb is both 'poisonous' and 'edible'.
  • Entities may not fit into any available category. Example: asking somebody from Washington, DC which state they live in.
  • Entities may change over time, so they no longer fit the category in which they have been placed. Example: certain species of fish may change from male to female during their life.
  • Attempting to discretize properties that would be better viewed as a continuum. Example: attempting to sort people into 'introverted' and 'extroverted'.
  • ....



The first rule of communicating with micromanager is to feed the beast regularly but never provide any information that is not strictly connected to your projects/assignments. Any information that you communicate can later be used against you. Remember that acute micromanagers are a special type of corporate psychopath and that the driving source of such micromanagers is their own insecurity as well as anxiety about failure. Keep him in the loop feeding with washout information, and then do so on a periodic basis that you can negotiate. As for the length of the period you mileage can vary. I saw pathological tenacious PIMM who, paradoxically, was comfortable with just monthly reports. You need to test PIMM tolerance and if monthly reports are enough consider yourself somewhat lucky, if we can talk about luck in such a desperate situation.  With some inventiveness you can safely avoid him/her for the rest of the period. 

Think about those periodic reports as feeding money into a parking meter. If you stop putting money in, your meter will run out and you can get a ticket.

You can feed  micromanager with spam instead of useful information as long as the period is observed. Micromanagement is all about the procedure not about the substance and that observation alone gives you considerable leverage even on the worst of control freaks. In other words cheating is a noble art for anybody who reports to a micromanager. Usually control freaks do not have time to read all the mail and even if they do they easily swallow regular corporate BS due to self-induced overload. You need to understand the level of their competence and if it is dismal use this weakness.  You can usually slightly fudge facts in your favor with little risk: they have no time to check them as they are preoccupied with some meaningless activity like creating yet another gigantic useless Excel spreadsheet that documents absurd procedure for doing trivial things. 

The second rule is to sugarcoat everything. PIMM have deeply seated insecurity and their triggers go off at slight hint of criticism. That does not mean that you should avoid confrontations. Just present it as if this is a child. You can find a lot of material how teachers should behave with children and most of them are relevant to communication with PIMM.  

Remember that you essentially are dealing with  a sick person. You can practice feeding him/her an irrelevant information that makes him comfortable with the hope that it will let you avoid stupid outbursts of anger.  But such approach failed to avoid emotional outburst confront such behavior calmly and firmly: “Understand but do not accept negative behavior.”   

Be assertive and confident but never trust paranoid micromanager and never try to build trust beyond some superficial ("I respect you") level. PIMMs are  special type of corporate psychopaths and a psychopath is always a psychopath.  Moreover they are usually very skillful manipulators and will try to lure you into frank discussions. Never bite this trap. Never volunteer any information that can be used against you. This is a war and "a la guerre, comme a la guerre" as French defined such relationships: war does not determine who is right - only who is left. 

Never try to reform a PIMM. Leave this task to other people or to qualified medical personnel. To quote Susan K. O’Brien (see Tips for coping with a micromanager) “:

 Micromanagement is a personality aberration of insecure individuals. Confronting them is likely to make things worse.”

Never try to reform a PIMM. Psychopath cannot be reformed. Leave this task to other people or to qualified medical personnel.

Practice verbal aikido by deflecting direct questions and using indirect communication instead of direct whenever possible.  Like the martial art of aikido, you don’t brace yourself for attack, but try to use your attacker’s momentum to thwart the advance. Rather than go into defensive mode, pretend to be proactive and cooperative and try to redirect the oncoming anger into complex question that always surround supposedly "black and white" situation.

When someone tries to put you on the defensive, thanks them but ask for more information using Socratic questions, for example:

Be indirect. 

For more detail please check two additional pages devoted to the topic:


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