Those of us who communicate for a living, whether it be presenting in hotel conference rooms, at conferences, communicating to the stakeholders of our organizations or simply talking with those with whom we come into contact during our normal everyday activities have to deal with individuals who feel like they have to put us down. No matter how eloquent we are, dealing with a heckler in front of an audience, an adversary in the boardroom or a bully on the street causes many of us to go mute. When that happens, our credibility goes mute with it. Although people loathe a bully, their victim loses a lot of power as well because people don't respect someone who is beaten down by a bully. They pity them. They feel sorry for them. They are embarrassed for them. But, they don't respect them. What they do respect is someone who is able to stand up to a bully. More exactly, they respect someone who is able to stand up to a verbal bully and do it with class.
Remember the Steve Martin movie, "Roxanne"? Martin plays a local fire chief who has to deal with the occasional comment about his extremely oversized nose. The most memorable scene is set in a local bar when a bully makes a point to harass Martin's character, C.D. Bales, about his nose. In a wonderful twist, Bales pokes fun at his own nose while at the same time putting the bully in his place. In my theater, the crowd wound up applauding the skill with which it was done.
We may not have the innate humor of Steve Martin with which we can fend off verbal barbs, however, there is a simple skill that allows us to face the biggest put-down monster in the crowd and do it with class. That simple technique is called fogging.
Fogging is an assertiveness skill that is aptly named for the dense mist that has often confused many travelers. In a fog, we lose our bearings, miss important landmarks and find ourselves off the road in a ditch that we failed to see. The assertive communication technique of fogging works the same way by confusing the verbal bully, who expects his victims to get angry and defend themselves, entering into a fight that the bully knows all too well how to win. Fogging works because the technique presents to the bully a tactic they don't expect: agreement.
Fogging, in essence, is agreeing with the offending statement, agreeing with a small portion of the statement that happens to be true, agreeing with the general principle behind the offending statement, or agreeing with any possible truth in the statement. Sweet in simplicity, here are some examples:
- Taunt: "This is some real sloppy work, Johnson! You've really gone downhill since we've hired you!"
- Response: "I agree that this is not my best work, but with more realistic time constraints and an adequate budget, we could have done much better."
- Taunt: "The engagement ring that you got your girlfriend is SOOOOO small!"
- Response: "It's true that it is smaller than most rings in this price range, but the quality of this one is flawless."
- Taunt: "Your son shouldn't have hit my son! You're a creep and an awful parent to teach him to hit people!"
- Response: "You know, you're right! No one should have to tolerate being hit by someone else. Perhaps you should find that boy's parent. I only have daughters."
- Taunt: "These examples are lame!"
- Response: "You're right! These are pretty simple and lame, but you should see what a real master of fogging can do!"
One real master of fogging is George Clooney. When one is as successful as Clooney, you will have those who are jealous of you raking you over the coals in public. The romance novel cover model, Fabio, once threatened to beat him up, he's been accused of being gay (...not that there is anything wrong with that! --Seinfeld), and teased for being very short. Here is an example of how Clooney can fog:
"Donald Trump's recent 'short guy' comments about Clooney. George, who is 5- feet 11-inches tall, responds, "I saw Donald Trump on Larry King and he was saying, 'Clooney is a very short guy. I mean he's a tiny guy.' I've met Donald Trump once, and I was sitting at a table. He came over, shook my hand, and walked away. I guess I looked about three foot five sitting at that table."
When done well -- and no one does it like Clooney -- fogging is a formidable communication tool that helps to deflect irrelevant emotional attacks and manipulations and allows one to focus on the real issues behind them.
I, too, met Donald Trump once. I remember him being short himself. Personally, I think Trump is jealous of Clooney's hair -- and personality.