Ten Games 8. Discrediting Game

Discrediting Game

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“He would sometimes use humor to put him down. He’d make comments like ‘Well let’s stay strategic here,’ and that implies that his comment was something less than strategic. We’d laugh, but you know, they were direct put downs.”

“They would ridicule the sincerity of the fans of the new consultants. They would make them sound gullible. Saying, ‘Well that sounds pretty damn bizarre to me. What relevance does it have? You guys are turning into groupies for God’s sake.’”

Those who play the Discrediting Game undermine the reputation and credibility of their “enemies” with actions that can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow all the way to blanket character assassination.  This game has been around forever but it used to be kept under control by social norms.  Digital media has reframed what was a “nuclear option” into a daily habit. Previously, the non-verbal feedback of face-to-face interactions meant the majority of us were far less willing to demonize people we knew we desperately needed to create mutual wins.  It felt stupid.  Our emotions warned us that it was dangerous. Now we have evidence that demonizing others (just to win) felt stupid for very practical reasons.

“People were just harassing them completely. They would say, “Why do we have to listen to this? They used names like Krauts, Frogs, etc. for whomever. They were swearing…The effect was that they didn’t listen to what the person was saying. They distracted people that were listening …They effectively cut off anyone’s ability to receive whatever data was coming from the Europeans. They pulled in anyone within earshot from listening to whatever was happening. They brought in people who typically might have listened but who now share those viewpoints.”

If there is one abuse of storytelling that concerns me most it is the desire to control a narrative by discrediting other points of view.  Once an accusation sticks there may be a relative bump in trust for the accuser compared to the now demonized party, but the lost trust isn’t replaced. It is transformed into distrust and yet one more point of view is marginalized or even silenced. The robust influence of multiple points of view dissipates and our reservoirs of trust simply begin to run out.  The daily habit of demonizing rather than forging connections has created escalating accusations and fear stories, distracting everyone’s eyes from working together on shared solutions to shared dangers like climate change, systemic poverty, and war.

When businesses and politicians play only to win, they siphon energy from our ability to play together.  Pretending that life is a game to win has channeled far too many resources that used to build trust to game behaviors that tear trust apart. To frame politics as a battle is to recruit strategies from the “art of war” – surprise attack, sabotage, diversion, to “kill with a borrowed knife” and a whole host of strategies that might be appropriate for war but have the effect of breaking every norm we need for peaceful existence to the point that everything feels like a war.  Just because some people are bored with peace, doesn’t give them the right to turn business and politics into a war where character assasination is a winning strategy.

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3 thoughts on “Ten Games 8. Discrediting Game”

  1. This surely is a “golden oldy”. It reminds me of children’s put downs when losing an argument. “Oh yeah? Your mama wears combat boots and she dresses you funny.” Of course the level of sophistication of the language increases with the age and experience of the wielder, but the intent and the impact is similar.

    Years ago I attended a class put on by a federal training center. The topic was resolution of conflicts and was done by an outfit called Vandergriff and Vandergriff out of New Mexico. The thesis was that a successful resolution could be predicted without knowing any of the technical details of the discussion but by listening carefully to the context of the discussion. They developed a tool called “Surfing the Swamp” and characterized the nature of the narrative into groups that composed the “High Ground” where resolution were most likely successful, “Middle Ground” where they were possible but less likely, and “The Swamp” where successful resolution was nearly impossible. The idea being, that if one wished to come to a successful resolution, they should stick to the “High Ground” and avoid “The Swamp”. Of course, it requires two to tango. So, if one party is dead set against reaching a resolution, then the issue is moot.

    I have found this tool useful in many cases for dealing with saboteurs who like playing in “The Swamp”. I will send you a copy of part of that presentation separately.

    I like your analogy about war. Those who have ever fought in a war or were prepared to do so know the horrible and wasteful results of war even when “victory” is obtained. Culture determines acceptable norms for interaction during times without war. Unfortunately, the “weaponization” of interaction tactics is too frequent today.

    It reminds me of an old Star Trek TV show where two worlds wage virtual war on one another and a computer determines the casualties from the pseudo-attacks and the people march into the death chambers to be eliminated. This is considered more just and acceptable than actual war. The Enterprise crew get caught up in one of the “attacks” and refuse to go along with the plan. When one makes war (or the resulting deaths from war) a part of the everyday culture the conflation of the normal culture and war cheapens the life of all involved. Sometime it is good to have real horrible consequences to remind us that war is something to avoid, not something to “normalize” into our culture.

    P. S. Glad to see you back and posting again. Missed your intellectual stimulation.

  2. I learned to recognize this game after training by Annette and I have seen it used in some mean ways. I saw a manager discredit a marketing consultant by reference to something that had nothing to do with her capabilities (which may have been a threat to him); he talked about how she ate and drove a car.

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