Diffusing those Horrible Accusations

“What are these?” my boss asked. He was standing near the mail delivery in the front of the office, holding a new computer. But not the right computer. “Where are the laptops we ordered?”

Diffuse a situation by taking responsibility before everything blows up. “Time_bomb” by Matt486, Flickr CC-By-2.0

My boss looked around the office. No one knew who had ordered the wrong hardware. Except, I knew that it was me. I could see my boss welling up with the frustrations of the week. No one wanted what was coming next.

Some day, you’ll find yourself painted into a corner. Maybe even the target of a character assassination. Your coworker is torpedoing your chances at that promotion. The police officer catches you speeding. Your spouse is going for the kill in the middle of a dinner party.

What can you do?

You might protest your innocence. Protesting implies guilt.

The better play is to Embrace and Expand the situation.

“Looks like I ordered the wrong laptops. I’m really very sorry, I must have gotten the models mixed up. I’ll get the right hardware ordered today and get the RMAs started to return these. I hope everyone’s old computers can last a few more days!”

The room was silent for a long moment. Then, “well, thanks Jeffrey. I wish everyone would stand up when they make a mistake.” My boss thanked me. He then looked around with frustration at everyone else’s imagined behaviour, as if they let him down, and he walked to his office. That was the last we heard of my mistake.

By embracing the accusation, you take ownership of the behaviour at the root of the problem. You now have the attention of everyone who cares about that accusation. You’re taking responsibility, like an adult. You gain respect.

Next, expand on the accusation against you. Paint yourself an underdog if needed, but not in a problematic or helpless way. Describe in outrageous terms the behaviour that you’ve exhibited. Maybe your behaviour highlights inefficiencies in the system. Maybe you’d do it again if the situation warrants it. You’re working to fix the situation and you won’t give up. Give a good reason if it was necessary. Take responsibility but don’t second guess your actions. Don’t overly apologize for the behaviour you’ve embraced.

We’re all trying our best, and other people understand this if you remind them.

Embracing the accusation and Expanding on the situation removes the power against you. Like a judo master, you are now free to redirect that power. You can further embrace the situation, keep it in the forefront and working for you. Or, now that you’ve taken responsibility and own the power, you can let the matter drop and extinguish the power completely.

Look at you, judoka.

Think of a time when accepting responsibility diffused a situation. Then, tell us your story in the comments!


2 thoughts on “Diffusing those Horrible Accusations”

  1. Great post Jeffrey!! Could you do a post specifically for defense against “linguistic kill shots”?

    1. Thanks Ashwin!

      A Linguistic Kill Shot is a trap of the mind. By planting a seed of an idea, our brain starts to notice information that matches that seed — confirmation bias. Matching behaviors are used as evidence of this idea, while non-matching behaviors are ignored.

      This can be hard to defend against. The best option is to expand the frame to take ownership of that label and spin it into something positive. I just picked up a copy of “Verbal Judo” that I expect will help with a post like that. Thanks for the suggestion!

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