a special tactic


Of Mystics and "Unfair" Tactics

While at General Electric, I knew a guy named Ed Schmidt.  When I knew him, he was an emissary for one or more of GE's top management, both as a probe into businesses and as the bearer of difficult news.  He was a rather unusual guy, who walked with a limp and used a heavy, bamboo cane.  He and I once were double-crossed by the airlines at Idaho Falls, Idaho and ended up taking the train back east.  This gave us some quality visiting time.  During this session I found that Ed, a very perceptive guy, got to conclusions or consequences in our conversation without having gone through all the intermediate steps that I had to go through.  He just intuited the answer.  He was the only true mystic that I ever knew.

Stories about him abounded in GE.  He was rumored to have showed up unannounced one morning in the General Manager's office at one of GE's departments and declared "I am your replacement!".  He then ran that department on an interim basis until replacement management could be found and brought in.  Another tactic which he used, with me among others, was to come into someone's office, ask how things were going, and then just sit there until the manager he was visiting couldn't stand it any longer and started telling him all the things he wanted to hear about.  In my own case, I welcomed the visits since I had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed about, but many a manager ended up spilling too many beans to Ed -- and, through him, to upper management.  This was a very effective tactic that got Ed a lot of information which he would not have gotten otherwise.

I learned from this.  I found that, under the right circumstances, in a negotiation or an inquiry, I could state my request or position and then sit back and wait for the other person to squirm in the silence and finally come forth with what I wanted.  It takes a lot of self-discipline but it is very effective.  I do wonder, sometimes, whether this is really a fair way to proceed, although I cannot find anything morally wrong with it.  But you feel as if there ought to be something improper about it.

As examples, I have done this in a crucial negotiation for the transfer of a group of engineers to a project that I was to head.  (The other individual involved committed suicide some months later, but I was assured that my meeting had nothing to do with it.  I have never felt entirely comfortable, however.)  I have used this with one of my children who didn't want to tell me something -- and finally did.

So my advice is: be conscious of this tactic.  It is rare and difficult, but you may find it useful on occasion.  Or you may find it used on you and will, thus, know what is going on and can respond accordingly.  I have never seen this in any book or course, so maybe it is worth recording here.  But do be careful, it may leave psychological scars if the issue involved was sufficiently important.