Ten Games People Play to Control Truth (6)

  1. Strategic Non-Compliance
Let me lull you into a false sense of security. You are feeling sle-e-epy.
Let me lull you into a false sense of security. You are feeling sle-e-epy.

“There was clearly an executive who would ‘roger up’ on everything but then do his own thing. He would agree on the way things would be done in a meeting and then go out and do as he damn well pleased.”

“So they would say they were going to do something and then not do it. The effect of that was that I didn’t get the information that I needed to resolve the problem, I didn’t know until it was too late.”

“They drag their feet by saying they will run a test and then they won’t run the test. Some other important priority came up and they couldn’t get on [it.].  For months and months they would never get the data.”

Have you ever brought up a tough issue, heard “Okay, we’ll get right on it,” but felt deep in your bones that this person or group was simply buying time and had no intention whatsoever of “getting right on it?” Unless they meant they’d get right on undermining your approach. In a group pressed for time, a promise to act or superficial agreement effectively halts further discussion and buys a game player enough time to kill the idea or let it die a languid death in the “too hard” basket.

“You get all five divisions together, they promise to work together and they act like the CEO calls the shots. Thay all walk out of the room in complete agreement with him collectively.  The pretend and go along with it…They just say one thing and do something else…When they go back to their five regions it will be ‘the hell with everybody else.’”

Strategic Non-Compliance is a tactic that buys time by convincing you that you don’t need to keep trying to influence others because if they can convince you that you’ve already won, then you will shut up.  It reminds me of the fake handshake where the other person suddenly removes their hand to smooth their hair and you feel like a goober with your hand out and more than a little bit humiliated. (a double play with the indimitaion game)

However this is not just something “other people” do, we’ve all done it.  (spoiler alert: all of us play all ten games at one time or another) The first time you told your parent “Okay, okay, I’ll do it,” and went right on not doing it – you played the strategic non-compliance game.  You didn’t have malicious intent. You intended to do it, but you said yes primarily to get Mom, Dad, or the boss to just go away. That doesn’t mean that when people say “yes” they don’t mean it. But good intentions can fade pretty quickly.

“He wasn’t aggressive with it. He was passive. He didn’t say, ‘This thing is not going to work.’ He said, ‘This will work; I’m all for it; we have to do it; we have to make sure it is successful. I want to make sure it is successful”…Just let me train these people and when they are ready to go they we’ll move along to the next step.’ So he agree in principles but yet his behavior was that he delayed it as long as possible.”

As long as we play these games and then protect ourselves with plausible deniability: “I meant to, but…Oh, I must have forgotten…I depended on you to remind me….oh darn did I miss the deadline?” we stay blind to the unconscious ways we defend ourselves from having to face tough truths that require personal sacrifice.  If territorial impulses are part of human nature (and I think they are) there is no way to drive out human impulses to be territorial.  These ten games will always be part of our shadow selves. The point is, that like any shadow – these territorial impulses need to be examined and understood in the light of day if we have any hope for finding big picture collective solutions.







7 thoughts on “Ten Games People Play to Control Truth (6)”

  1. Annette –

    Great topic. I haven’t experienced this very often, but I understand the issue and risk to assuming someone is keeping their word. I think in the old days of TV, Groucho Marx had a show called “Who Do You Trust”. The characters seem like they are straight out of central casting.

    This is someone what akin to a story I relate in my book about malicious compliance in that both are passive aggressive actions intended to make something unpleasant to them just “go away”. However, in the malicious compliance case it is “in your face” as opposed to “behind your back”.

    Not sure which is wosre of if malicious compliance is in your ten games list, but I will interested to hear how others think is the best way to deal with it.

    As always, I enjoy the intellectual stimulation and hope I am giving as well as receiving.


    1. Steve, The important word here is “malicious” I think. It is a judgment about someone else’s intent that may be accurate(ish) in many cases (but not all) but lands us in the common situation where “accurate” is not always useful. No one self-describes their intent this way so the phrase limits our options to change behavior. Plus I can assure you that any act of malicious intent will earn a rebuttal that “they” started it. The attribution of malicious intent could be ascribed to all the games, but it is a key impediment to changing group behaviors. What I find is that intent is far more fluid than that. AND…this fluidity is an opportunity. Using interventions that elevate the “better angels” of a group (i.e. who-I-am story sharing) we re-place negative filters with renewed assumptions of positive intent – just long enough – for insight to destablilize certainty of malicious intent. IN other words, when I can orchestrate a small “truth and reconciliation” event for a work group – they can reset assumptions of intent with a higher frequency of “benefit of the doubt” pauses that allow people a second chance to do the right thing. This social dance step that is much easier in face-to-face communication (and thus less practised nowadays) is a critical missing element lately – it is the negotiated second chance. My step mother illustrates this beautifully when my father says some awful thing and she doens’t get mad, or offended, but says, “Oh no Milton, that’s not what you meant. You are too good a man to say things like that.” she lets him save face but redirects him to a second chance to be kind, or tell the truth, or admit fault, or just act like a human being. It is passive but very functional. If none of this makes sense…I broke my hip and I’m still on pain pills!

      1. Perhaps the term “malicious” in this case is overly broad. I know from personal experience in the story referenced that it was deliberately intended to inflict pain on others who were incapable or unwilling to take into account the pain others were doling out to them. A case of “let’s see how they like it” when it bites them in the butt. The more common case I see it is in union/management conflicts where “work to the rule” is implemented as a means of demonstrating both the seriousness of intent as well as a demonstration of power during negotiations. Your point that “malicious” is a judgment of intent is well taken. Some deliberate obstruction is malicious and some is without intent to harm, just to get someone to take notice. And I agree that it is difficult to deal with on anything less than a face-to-face setting. Electronic intervention is soooooo difficult to be effective. Time and each other is all we really have and one of those is always running out. God bless your step mom, what an intelligent AND gentle response. OMG, how did you break your hip? E-hugs for your boo boo. I hope the pain pills work well for you (but not too well, if you know what I mean). Hope you are on the mend and quickly recover.

      2. About malicious intent: if I’m trying to scan such cases, it occurs to me that more often than not, the people with the intent I see as malicious, are pretty sure they are doing others a great favor. They are also pretty sure those others are too mindless or weak to understand what’s “right” and act upon this understanding. From their point of view we owe them more than we can imagine, and one day we’ll “get it”. I have just two more things to add: 1. they tend to neglect the price others have to pay for their “genius”, 2. They can’t pull their trick alone, and they can’t do it without applying a great deal of force – of some sort. Story-work wise, I think these two points are also where the ability to neutralize their game starts.

  2. I think this game is the most dangerous one for two reasons: 1. In essence it dilutes trust, forcing everybody involved with this person to self-censor because they can never be sure what he has in mind, or what’s going to happen next, 2. It can work for you regularly only if you are at the top of a pyramid. That’s why it’s also a very dangerous game. It can affect the life of many people. It can give a sense of “flair” to a person, perceived as sophisticated style, as a mystery. I can see where it’s useful, but what is conceals might turn out catastrophic.

    1. Limor, I couldn’t agree with you more. The lost of trust in the last few years is staggering (except China for some reason). And all of the social tools I develop to facilitate increased communication depend on tapping into what for most of my lifetime has been a latent river of trust that runs through most humans. That river is running dry. It’s scary times. (I’m slowly getting back on line after breaking my hip, eye roll)

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