Be familiar with the tactics people use to cloud an issue


This is from a short article written by David Ellis, author of Becoming a Master Student, entitled "How to Fool Yourself - Six Common Mistakes in Logic.” This information came via Steve Davis of FacilitatorU in his newsletter called Getting to The Truth. The newsletter is for facilitators of groups, so the information will be slanted toward facilitators, yet is useful for leaders and participants. I personally find many people commenting on articles and blogs to use these as power plays to get their point across.  Here's the information.

1. Jump to Conclusions

In our rush to get a meeting over with and to get on with the job, it can be tempting to jump to conclusions based on hasty generalizations. For example, consider a company with a marked increase in product returns. They could easily jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the product and go about trying to find the bug. But in fact, it may be that the advertising is misrepresenting the product, creating a mismatch between client desires and results produced. Help your groups look at all the possible inputs to a problem to remedy this potential error in judgment.

2. Attack the Person


This is an old strategy that we've all seen before, especially in the political arena. If we don't like what someone is saying, it's easy to simply attack the source rather than do the work necessary to take an in-depth look at their ideas. Perhaps in the above example, John suggests that the problem with our return rate may with our advertising. When Bill responds with, "Right, and what do you know about advertising, you're an engineer," he is diverting attention from John's idea to John's credibility. In this case, ask Bill to attack the idea and not the person.

3. Appeal to an Authority

We've all seen the infomercials with famous stars or noted experts citing the miracles they've attained with the latest gadget, book, or program. In this case, we're asked to fully trust a product because of its association with a celebrity or an authority. No one is infallible, not even James Earl Jones! And even if one is an expert on the subject at hand, we can't be certain that they know everything there is to know about the current issue on the table. Again, taking our example further, suppose Bill says, "Our product has got to have a flaw it in and Bob (the company president) told me this morning that he suspects that's the problem as well." Acknowledge that the authority, Bob in this case, could be right, but that it's in everyone's best interest to explore all the possibilities to save time and money down the road.

4. Point to a False Cause

It's easy to assume simple causes for complex problems. For example, consider an organization faced with constant change, as most are these days. People are feeling out of step with the changes and with each other. Consequently, they cite the cause as a lack of communication from management. In actuality, there are likely many causes for people feeling misaligned. Communication quantity and quality may only be contributing factors. Help your group clarify the conditions they'd like to create, work backward to identify all the factors that would contribute to this outcome, then explore how they can be adjusted to make this happen.

5. Think in "All or Nothing" Terms

all or nothing.jpg

Most of us have made sweeping generalizations at one time or another. For example, "You can never trust a lawyer...Teenagers are terrible drivers...More money would solve all of our problems"...etc. This kind of thinking does not address the reality of each unique situation. Invite your group to refrain from sweeping judgments and instead, to look at the particular people and specifics of the situation on the table.

6. Base Arguments on Emotion

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

Emotion is often used for manipulative purposes. I once watched a woman hijack a meeting by shedding tears of sorrow based on her inference that a suggestion for a change to a program somehow discounted her years of work. We all fell for it, and the potentially progressive proposal fell flat. Acknowledge the feelings of others, but don't let them cloud the true content, intent, and direction of your group.


Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.