Ten Games People Play to Control Truth (3 of 10)

3. The Filibuster Game

Endless chatter that dominates the airwaves.
Endless chatter that dominates the airwaves.

“… we were just wasting our time. No one wanted to be the one to tell him he was full of crap so they just sat and listened to him ramble on. After all, no one could disagree with the fact that we needed to act more like a team.  But wasting all this time talking about our values and customer service didn’t solve the problem.  Everyone walked out of that meeting and went right back to the same old, same old.

I’ve been there. You’ve been there.  Now it’s happening on a national level and it’s no longer an irritation but a real threat. This quote above describes a meeting that happened over 20 years ago, but it’s happening again today, except game players now have “scaled” the filibuster game with technology that floods the airwaves with talking heads and images designed to activate clicks instead of collaboration.

The Filibuster Game has long been codified as a tactic in Congress: talk long enough and it prevents everyone else from telling his or her story.  Today technological variations of the filibuster game include apps that push notifications to the point we don’t have time to look for verification. Particularly if the “news” we get affirms our own goodness and blames those “idiots” for not understanding what’s real.

You aren’t going to like this but in experiments, peace makers sabotage their ability to confront the Filibuster game if they get stuck believing that a Filibuster game player knows exactly what he is doing and why.  Nope.  Most of the time, these game players genuinely think they are heroes protecting a value that the rest of us want to “destroy.” Calling a game player stupid (accurate or not) only doubles the energy he or she gives to the game.  Just to be clear, even those game players who are intentionally playing the filibuster game draw energy from your accusations.  The only way a game player stops playing games is if he/she can admit to him/herself in the privacy of his/her own mind: “I’ve been acting like an asshole. I think Im making things worse. I want to change for my own reasons” It’s not easy, not particuarly gratifying, but focusing on the games and not the people works faster – not 100% of the time because nothing works 100% of the time. But it works with small groups, so surely there is a larger scale approach.

IMO, I think we need to stop fighting each other and start fighting the games people play with the truth. We need checks and balances for airtime that is currently for sale to the highest bidder.

Most people who play the Filibuster Game don’t realize they are doing it. Fear and anxiety create a knee jerk physiological impulse they just can’t control.  All they know is that whatever you have to say distresses them, and they feel much better when they are talking instead of you. They will talk about anything except what you want to discuss. In corporate meetings the bluster mouth playing the filibuster game runs out the clock so other agenda items are never addressed. Filibuster is a fire hose of rhetoric that is not meant to communicate but to dominate.

This next quote was from a man describing a meeting, but you can imagine how this has translated to dominating media with loud engaging rhetoric that drowns out other stories.

In meetings when they get to the point where the gloves are off, it becomes very, very loud. The loudest and the most eloquent … He could make you listen, even though he was on the other side. He could compel you to listen by his rhetoric…You knew he was a snake. You knew full well…that what you were hearing was but a tip of his intent, what he was saying was only a portion of what he wanted you to hear. You know that what came before you on the table did not represent all that there was.

The filibuster game controls what we see as “True” by blocking out the stories deemed dangerous to a game player’s “preferred narrative.”  Some even label these other people’s stories as “anti-stories” and intentionally distract, block, nullify, or sideline those who are willing to risk telling the emperor he has no clothes.

Since we have a finite time amount of time to attend to different points of view, any media that fills our attention to capacity with a single story steals time from tough issues that arise when we admit there are at least 4 or 5 points of view, that may piss us off, but still need to be addressed.  When the flood of “something else, anything else” swirls within a media outlet it creates echo chambers (filibuster bubbles) designed to protect listeners from self-examination.

“People want to hang on to what they’ve got…so they generate so much data that it’s impossible to counteract.”

A flood of data makes it seem as if the problem we need to solve is to find a faster way to understand the data when solutions are much more likely to be found by sharing stories from all points of view, finding a way to walk a mile in the shoes of someone who knows what you don’t know, listening with empathy, generating mutual curiosity, or dialoging about Big T Truths.  This doesn’t happen unless game players somehow experience an emotional state that makes being vulnerable seem wise.  Attacking game players is satisfying but counterproductive. The trick is to get them to tell themselves the truth.

In my own experiements this rarely happens in isolation, but can be achieved in face-to-face group dialogue.



BTW, my definition of Big T truths: human paradoxes than sound like opposites but are actually two poles that must be balanced in the middle. We balance helping individuals AND the collective, depending on rules AND relationships, and investing in safety AND freedom. For instance, the golden rule “treat others as you wish to be treated,” plots a middle way between my wants and your wants.








4 thoughts on “Ten Games People Play to Control Truth (3 of 10)”

  1. Flooding the arena with information, whether fake or true, is nothing new. Those who seek power are doing it for centuries and millennia. In the digital age, the filibuster game turned lethal. Married with a sick craving for extreme drama, nurtured by those who own the platforms, it’s used intentionally to mask what’s really going on. The cost is first and foremost in human life. In most cases “the mass” is not playing it intentionally – just chiming in without a second thought; easily manipulated.
    There are many heartbreaking examples of the lethal digital filibuster game. Personally, the most frustrating example I see is Syria. Maybe because it’s so close; from here, we can be much more aware of what’s happening on the ground. Western governments chose to ignore photos of chemical attacks and torture taken by citizen journalists, ordinary people. “Experts” and commentators, with the aid of technology and media control, poured on the public oceans of words about those photos not being from “official sources” and therefore unreliable for decision making. The outcome is known, and not a word about the real why.
    But there is a way. It’s about telling people the truth about what’s going on, showing them how it works, and encouraging them to learn enough so they have a choice.

    1. You are right Limor. None of these games are new. When the book first came out in 1998 I made presentations in europe, eastern europe, southeast asia, the west, latin america, etc. I think feeling territorial is a human instinct “beneath culture” – The original book was translated into like, 14 languages. My target readers – if I write a new book on territorial games – will be the mass of us who will recognize the games and make personal choices (initially) to re-sort what they think is true by comparing it to what they know in their hearts is true. In changing human behaviors through group process I’ve found that answering the question “why?” is counterproductive. It turns into a root cause analysis that goes backwards and turns into blame. Group behavior is so emotional and relational that any “why” answer is only a partial answer at best. And we can’t go back to fix the recent past – we can only leave this road and find a new one. My successes were always group interventions where no one had to confess in public but the group (with a pencil and paper diagnostic) sees that everyone is playing these games and they decide in a kind of “1, 2, 3, go” agreement to stop playing the games. I don’t know if this process can even scale. I can only report on experiments with smaller groups. Also on a personal note, I can’t imagine being so close to the events in Syria. It must be breaking your heart. It is breaking mine and I’m in the filibuster bubble of my own country. All I know to do is to keep trying.

  2. I think you touch on the fundamental issue, which is a tribal mentality. When people are operating at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, it is hard not to grab for any safety net (perceived or real). The filibuster is a manifestation of the ostrich burying his head in the sand. Don’t make me confront the uncomfortable, let me be. I heard you say in another forum that what people want is to be safe and to have faith. The filibuster is a billboard letting the world know I am not feeling safe. Not being a trained psychologist or human behavior specialist like you, I am at a loss for how to affect the changes that I can clearly see. My amateur status informs me that making people feel safe is a necessary precursor to ending filibusters, but how to make it happen on a grand scale is beyond me. From my leadership philosophy, I talk about driving despair out. That seems to be somewhat on the same wavelength. But to do that one has to care about others (INAM – it’s not about me). I suspect that filibusters are an expression of despair (or self defense). The only way I know to deal with it is to care and show it. Unfortunately, it also requires those playing the filibuster game to want to have someone help as opposed to have someone agree with them. Hence, how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb really has to want to change.

    1. Steven – the ostrich is a great symbol for those who get swooped up in the fear caused by these games. BTW designing interventions to minimize territorial games is what led me to storytelling in the first place. My book “A Safe Place for Dangerous Truths” includes many of the interventions that worked for me with intact groups. I’m investigating how to scale these interventions. I think despair and disdain are closely related emotions. At least in my own personal experience this is true. So yes driving despair out works. Sharing “value-in-action” stories is the fastest fix – the trick is to build faith that there are still shared values. In behavioral change literature from health interventions – there is a term called “readiness” – the intervention shouldn’t start until a group is “ready” so our set up needs to follow a particular sequence of escalating goals that lead to experiences that build faith – not rhetoric.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top