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
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.
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,
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?”
sure can’t hurt anything, if you have the time,” is Jeff’s offhanded
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:
people higher up or with the work of people in other departments
person or problem to focus on
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
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
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.
“Charlie did a fine job.”
responds, “Yes, he did do all right this time.” – All right but not
quite a fine job.
someone says, “Charlie had some problems with that one.”
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
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
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
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.