Dec 14, 2006

Tactics of Conversational Distraction

Mimicry, camouflage and distraction can all be used to mislead others.

Distraction, in particular, involves drawing a target's attention away from one's real goal or purpose, in order to better accomplish that goal. For instance, birds will often fake an injury to lure predators away from their offspring. Along the same line, pickpockets often create distractions, such as someone fainting in a crowd, in order to divert attention away from what's really going on. And, of course, distraction is commonly used in sports, war, politics, and so on.

To successfully engage in distraction, it usually involves some form of mimicry (e.g., trying to appear injured) and camouflage (e.g., trying to blend a crowd). And while blatant forms of distraction, like those mentioned above, are typically easy to spot (from the right vantage point), what are some of the more subtle ways that people engage in distraction?

How do we engage in distraction in our everyday conversations?

At one time or another, everyone has found themselves in the following situation: A conversation is veering toward a potentially dangerous topic - a topic where telling the truth is really not an option. But, at the same time, most people would prefer not to lie. Can the topic be avoided, somehow, without the other person noticing? Is there a way to socially distract the target from having that conversation?

Tactics of Conversational Distraction

  • Seize Control - When a conversation appears headed toward dangerous territory, take control of it. If you have to, interrupt the other person (raising your voice works), bring up relevant, but less dangerous topics, and move the conversation toward safer ground.
  • Bombard with Questions - Distract the target with questions so they don't have a chance to ask questions themselves.
  • Emotionally Stun - Bring up an emotionally difficult subject (e.g., "have you heard from... about..."), a subject where the target is likely to get trapped in their own emotions causing them to lose their focus.
These distractionary tactics work well when trying to avoid a subject from coming up. But, they work less well once an issue has been raised.

In future posts, I'll discuss some of the ways people use language to mislead when attempts to distract others have failed.

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