Monday, February 20, 2012
In this post, I will reveal the "presupposition" contained in the supervisor's attack. The presupposition is the real attack, but is one that usually remains unspoken by the attacker. The victim of a verbal attack should address only the presupposition and ignore the bait. In this case, the presupposition is that Jennifer's innate nature (introversion) is not compatible with the job she was hired to do (scientist). This is a more complex presupposition than we've considered in previous examples and is perhaps a bit more challenging to counter. But let's try.
How can we state a response that addresses the charge (Jennifer's apparent lack of essential skills) and also effectively counters a bias against introverted people? Successful responses to a presupposition should be stated in the form of a question. Jennifer might say,
"When did you begin thinking that work involving individual contemplation and concentration was not good?"
Such a response ignores the bait and restates Jennifer's mode of working in positive terms (individual contemplation and concentration)--in direct contrast to the negative, inappropriate terms her supervisor used (hiding, not a team player). Her supervisor will likely be caught off guard by her response (in fact, I would bet on it). People who use verbal attacks to control other people are often completely thrown off their tracks by this because they are accustomed to defensive responses. They usually either completely abandon the attack or they are forced to provide a more specific example, which is easier for the victim to counter. Let's assume instead that Jennifer's supervisor is a bit faster on his feet and replies:
"Unnhh. I didn't mean that I think solitary work, concentration, and thought were not good. I just think you are too quiet."
Now the supervisor is on the defensive and may continue in this vein for a bit--protesting that he was only talking about her quietness. He's brought up her quietness as a negative again, however. Her response might be:
"I'm glad to hear that you appreciate the fact that many scientific tasks require quiet contemplation, without distractions, to most efficiently accomplish them. Why then would someone who works well this way be criticized for it?"
Jennifer has now directly challenged the idea that "quietness" is a sign of failure and pointedly asked why she is being criticized for it. Her supervisor might respond,
"Well, when you are so quiet at meetings, your coworkers will think you are hiding something from them or that you don't have any ideas at all."
Now the supervisor is being forced to be more specific and to justify his original charge with examples. In reply, Jennifer might ask which coworkers think this? Her supervisor will not likely name anyone (whom Jennifer can later easily ask). By now, it should be clear that it's not really Jennifer's coworkers who have a problem with Jennifer's quietness; it's her supervisor. She should key in on this and continue to ask for reasons why someone who is quiet might be "hiding something" or might not have "any ideas at all". Jennifer can continue guiding the conversation toward more specifics and ask for clear justifications for his criticism. The key is that she should not apologize for her quietness or for her way of working and processing information. If she responds in a quietly forceful, but professional, manner, she will get her point across.
Hopefully, over time, her supervisor will come to appreciate Jennifer's introspective nature. If not, she may need to find another position that is more in line with her natural way of thinking and working.