If you’ve ever been frustrated or somehow marginalized during a debate or argument, you’ve probably fallen victim to one of the “master suppression techniques.”
Master suppression techniques were first defined by Ingjald Nissen, a Norwegian psychologist. He defined them as means of a social manipulation. They are used to maintain the dominant position in an argument.
Today these techniques are used by bullies, pseudo-intellectuals, and sneaky manipulators to suppress and diminish the strength of your person or your positions. They are used all over. Hot buzz words like “mansplaining,” “white privilege” and “patriarchy” are used to denigrate and suppress people, valid positions, and arguments. It’s about time we woke up to these techniques.
It’s important to know these techniques so you see when they’re being used on you, and it’s important to know these techniques so you can counter them effectively.
Without further ado, here they are:
This technique is designed to marginalize someone and their opinion. The way it works is if it’s someone’s turn to talk, the audience members or the listener will begin doing other things to ignore the target. It could also be used in the form of a distraction where you create noise or a disturbance during the time the target is speaking. It’s meant to make the target feel insignificant or uncertain.
Counter: Assert Yourself
If you are the target of invisibilizing, you must immediately speak up. Don’t become hostile or confrontational just yet, your first step is just to calmly and confidently assert your position as the speaker and your right to be heard. Just saying something like “excuse me, it’s my turn to talk and it’s important that you listen to me now” can capture attention and slightly shame the disruptive members of your audience. The most important aspect of this tactic is to speak up immediately when you are being marginalized.
Poke fun at the target to diminish and belittle their strength and the validity of their argument. This is a very effective, yet juvenile strategy which will infuriate the target if they don’t know how to counter. It is essentially an “appeal to ridicule,” which presents your target’s argument as absurd or humorous thereby automatically voiding any substance or merit it may have, or any consideration it might deserve.
You an resist any argument using this tactic. Just make the target feel diminutive by making fun of them as if they were a child or an old, elderly person.
Here are two examples from wikipedia:
- Another speaker laughs at your accent and compares you to a character in a humorous TV show (although you had something important to say).
- When making an accusation of wrongdoing against someone, you are being told that you look cute when you’re angry.
Counter: Call Out the Ridiculer
You can turn the tables by calling out or shaming / ridiculing the ridiculer. You can do this by simply and calmly questioning the offender what they mean by their statement or to clarify or explain themselves.
You can then turn the tables and accuse them of not presenting a logical argument, or just loop back to your argument using a “that’s not the issue, the real issue is” statement. Further, you can point out that their argument is juvenile, and if they should act like an adult and not a child.
Technique: Withholding Information
Withholding information involves not sharing all the pertinent information with the target, or excluding the target from a decision making process. It can be either the consciously withholding of important information or not inviting the target to a meeting where a final decision is made about an issue.
Essentially it’s consciously keeping someone out of the loop.
Counter: Cards on the Table
If you recognize this type of strategy being used against you, you can demand to see the cards on the table. You must assert yourself calmly and confidently and say you are part of the decision making process and you need to see all the cards before you make your decision. You can mention that it’s nice your colleagues discussed the matter, but now they should also tell you so that WE can come to a decision.
If this happens once, it may just be poor communication or a poor system of information sharing, however if it happens frequently it may be wise to appeal to someone higher up the chain of command.
Technique: The Double Bind
The double bind puts the target in a lose – lose scenario where the target may be faulted no matter how he behaves or responds.
Example 1: If you work late nights as a business owner you may be called a workaholic, yet if you don’t put the time in to properly manage your business you may be accused of lacking ambition or work ethic.
Example 2: You can put others in a verbal double bind by creating a situation where no matter how they respond they lose. Check out the following video for a real, live, outstanding example:
Counter: Break the Pattern
To counter the double bind you need to slow down the attack and bring the ball back to your court, then define your priorities.
To bring the ball back to your court, like with other counters, calmly and confidently assert yourself with a strong stop statement like “excuse me,” or “hold on.” You may then choose to throw in an agreement statement + adversative conjunction (but, yet, however – depending on how you want to frame the agreement statement), then define your priorities or positions. To do this most effectively you need to have your frames already established. See my work on frame control to learn more about this.
Tactic: Heap Blame / Put to Shame
This is effectively “victim blaming.” It’s embarrassing the target or blaming them for their position or whatever happened to them.
For example, if someone gets taken advantage of in a deal, you’d blame them for their own naiveté or foolish behavior. “The reason you were taken advantage of is because you’re a fool.” Or if a woman is tired of being oogled by men: “the reason men stare at you is because you dress in tight, revealing clothes.”
Note: What I’m about to say here doesn’t apply if you’ve been a victim of a violent crime or assault. Something like that is a very serious matter and these counters aren’t written with that sort of victim shaming in mind. You should never be shamed for being the victim of a violent crime. The following counters are for less serious situations you might be shamed for, like being ripped off in a deal, or misplacing something valuable.
Countering this tactic is tricky. There may be truth to the accusation, however you still may feel hurt or slighted by it. It’s important to be critical of the motivations of the person using the tactic against you. They may be projecting their own anxieties or fears onto you. If this is the case you can call them on it, however this may not be the best defense tactic because they can just deny your accusation.
It may be wise just to learn from the situation and change your behavior so it doesn’t happen again. We all have been hurt or taken advantage of at one time or another. These learning experiences make you tougher and stronger so you can deal more effectively with the situation next time it arises.
If you respond to victim blaming or shaming by re-defining the situation as a learning experience you’ll come off as the bigger person and probably earn respect from the blamer. Plus taking ownership of the situation diffuses their attack. If you get defensive and argue you potentially give the blamer more power and dig yourself a deeper hole. There are consequences to your actions and it’s wise to anticipate possible consequences to your actions and behaviors. There is danger in the world and it’s smart to understand potential hazards so you can avoid putting yourself into dangerous situations.
This is a tough situation to be in and I’m not sure there is a great counter. Accusing the perpetrator of victim blaming reinforces yourself as the victim and being a victim isn’t a great position to be in. I think the re-frame honestly is the best course of action.
This tactic negates the targets position or argument based on their appearance or how they look. Example: “how can I take you seriously when you look like that.” Essentially it’s a personal attack.
Counter: Call Out / Loop Back
Call out the illogical argument and restate the issue which is the real topic of debate. “The issue isn’t [the objectification], it’s [the main argument] and [your position].”
Also it’s good to be conscious of your appearance so you avoid this type of tactic altogether. Avoid trends and look sharp.
Tactic: Threat of Force
This tactic uses force to support an argument. If you use this type of tactic you automatically lose the argument. Threatening force shows you have no logical answer or response. Rather ironically and humorously this tactic is used to day by various leftist organizations to promote their views. It’s funny because it seems like they don’t realize this tactic just makes them look bad. Unfortunately they also employ the “victim shaming” tactic to accuse the victims of inciting the violence, which simply isn’t true.
Counter: Call out the lack of rational response to the debate and claim victory. Learn how to fight too.
It’s important to study and remember this list of suppression techniques so you can avoid having your arguments suppressed. With knowledge comes power. Use it wisely.