Agitators tell all to anyone
To master this technique, it is necessary to keep in mind that the underlying motivation relates to the acquisition and distribution of power and influence. To get power or influence, the player tells anything to anyone. The trick is that this seems also to give more power or influence to the person receiving the information. Another example will help here.
Alice Noris is the Projects Director for a small electronics company. In her position, she is a confidant to the executive vice president and occasionally to the president. She also uses her position to become friendly with the operations director of the company’s largest customer. Due to a corporate reorganization, Alice is being laid off and becomes quite bitter. Her main problem is loosing her base of power and influence.
For a couple of weeks, Alice flounders, not knowing how to deal with what is a revolting predicament. Her inspiration, however, soon comes.
Alice takes a double tact. First, she spends some time hanging around the company, just visiting with her friends. Second, she actively pursues her relationships with her “friends” from the company’s customer. Along with the information she already has through her employment, she gets more rumors and tidbits of information from hanging around. These arrangements put her in an ideal position to play out her power game.
Her first ploy is to intimate to the company’s remaining employees that the company is going down the tube. This is, of course, because she is not going to be there anymore. This has the effect of getting the employees upset and anxious about their jobs.
To the customer’s staff, she gives the impression that the company is poorly managed and in big trouble. This undermines the customer’s faith in the company and its willingness to contract with Alice’s ex-employer.
The message to both circles of “friends” is that if Alice were in charge, things would be running smoothly. Of course, both groups of people are interested in the inside information. It puts them in the know. Alice gains more power and influence within both groups of confederates. Having the scoop always equates with having power.
Agitators get others upset and then act innocent
This is the “Who me?” trick and is a technique only for the very skilled. It plays out in two ways, sometimes mixing the approaches.
First, pick something the other person highly values or finds a little problematic for him. This can be anything from a personal quality or attribute to an aspect of work performance or a specific task. The key is to be sure it is important, valued, or a point of concern to the person. This then becomes the target.
Second, pick a person liked by the individual or someone whose opinion the person values. Playing it straight up, get the valued other to say something negative about the person related to the target trait or situation. If a skilled player listens closely, something can be given a negative twist even if nothing negative was intended.
Using the first ploy, the player says something to his foil directly. Using the second ploy, he says something to his victim, attributing the comment to the valued other. An example of each technique is instructive.
Using the direct approach, Nancy finds an opportunity to chat with one of her co-workers. “This is something I would never say to you if we were not such good friends. I just feel like I have to tell you the truth. Please stop me if you don’t want me to be honest with you. Well anyway, I saw that program you wrote for the Market Center account. Granted, it gets the job done. How to say this? It is a little convoluted. I just thought you should know there were better and cleaner ways to write the code.”
Her co-worker asks, “Like what?”
Nancy smiles and says, “I should not have brought it up. You are going to do nothing but get upset. We are too good of friends to have hard feelings over something like this. Just pretend I didn’t bring it up. Let’s talk about something else.”
Why does Nancy bring it up at all? That is the remarkable part of it. No one will ever know but Nancy what it had to do with her short-term or long-term game plan but be assured that Nancy knows. Agitators are always aware of what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Nancy also is skilled with the indirect approach. She just happens to be talking to Jeff Mallary, the manager of her operating unit. Mary – the above co-worker – just happens to come up in the conversation. “It’s interesting you should mention Mary, Jeff. I was talking with her earlier today about the problems with the program she wrote for the Market Center account. It’s too bad I didn’t get to see the code before it went out. It might be a good idea if I reviewed her stuff before it goes out to catch these kinds of things before they get to our customers. Two heads are always better than one. How would something like that seem to you, just to be on the safe side?”
“Well, it sure can’t hurt anything, if you have the time,” is Jeff’s offhanded reply.
Later the same day: “I talked with Jeff, Mary, and he is upset about the problems with the Market Center project. He asked me to supervise your programming activities and to approve everything before it goes out. With our being such good friends, I assured him this would not cause any problems.”
Agitators are quick to complain
Most of the techniques have been demonstrated by master players as in the above examples. This one is for beginners, though.
Suppose you want to advise someone how to be an agitator. It might go like this:
• Start with people higher up or with the work of people in other departments
• Pick a person or problem to focus on
• Once over the selection hurtle, systematically avoid saying anything about the person or problem unless saying something negative
• Be sure to say something negative every time a chance to agitate comes up
• Take care to say something negative about the performance of the person or something about how the problem is being poorly handled
• “If it were up to me”, is always a good opener when using the technique.
So long as the aspiring agitator takes care to limit the technique to one or two people or situations, it is hard to go wrong. With everyone and everything else, the new player needs to at least be noncommittal and should be downright positive at times. This gives the impression of being a positive person who is a team player.
Agitators make things seem worse than they are
The corollary to this is that agitators also make things that are quite positive seem less positive. When the two sides of the technique are seen – worse and less positive – it is easier to get a feel for how to play.
Someone says, “Charlie did a fine job.”
The player responds, “Yes, he did do all right this time.” – All right but not quite a fine job.
Alternatively, someone says, “Charlie had some problems with that one.”
The player responds, “I suppose it could have been worse, but he for sure didn’t get the job done.” – “Some problems” change to “could have been worse” and “not get the job done.”
The idea is to move it just a little in the negative direction whether it starts out positive or starts out already negative.
Agitators have opinions on everything
This technique is the stock-and-trade of the effective agitator. His trick is to use the technique in a skilled and unexpected way. The player puts in his two cents worth at every opportunity, whether anyone wants it or not. It works like this.
Rose hangs around when others are talking, always lingers a little after meetings, and just starts talking when people are working. Her game is to get people talking whether they want to talk or not.
Once people are talking, she jumps in or says something like, “I could not help hearing what you were talking about.” Of course, she could help it. She makes a point to hear. Nonetheless, she now expresses her opinion. Whatever the topic, she has an opinion.
Her opinion is that things are a mess. She thinks things should be handled better. In fact, the company is going to the dogs. Why? Everyone – except her – is incompetent and does not know what he is doing. Adding, “I have said this before but. . . .” is a master touch.
Here is the key to the technique. If someone asks Rose for her opinion on something, she says, “I have some strong opinions on this, but I want to hear your ideas first.” Notice she is clear about her having opinions – more than one – on the topic. No matter what the other person says, Rose is ready. She has managed to move back to a position from which to react to what others are saying. She is not one to let anyone get her out of position. The thorn of Rose works best as a weapon with which to stick someone, anyone.
Agitators keep things stirred up
Effectively using this technique is a difficult task. The need is to keep things stirred up without being seen as an agitator. The player needs to play without being identified as an agitator. Success comes by being able to strike when it will stir things up the most and being perfectly charming the rest of the time. The impression is of a likeable person who only has the best interest of your company at heart. He only says anything at all because he sincerely cares.
There are many effective ways and times to get to the goal of stirring things up. The two best times are either when things are going along smoothly or when stress and tension are unusually high. The rest of the time, the player needs to be charming.
There also are two good ways to get things stirred up. First, when things are going well, find a little problem and predict that it will grow into a crisis. Sooner or later there will be a crisis of some sort. The player can then say, “I wish I had been wrong, but I tried to warn you.” It does not matter if the original problem had anything to do with the current crisis. The player is a big person in the scheme of things as a result of predicting the crisis. People now hold him in higher regard.
When things are a mess or when there is a crisis, the player picks anyone or anything to blame the problems on. It helps to select someone or something others already see as a problem, but it does not really matter.
The player says, “As I have pointed out before, our real problem is . . ..” No, it does not matter whether it is the problem or if it has been pointed out before. Everyone will feel better having someone or something on which to focus their frustration and negative energy. The player finds a scapegoat for them. Nearly everyone would rather point fingers than deal with the real issues. How about that! Human nature again works to the player’s advantage.