A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
August 25th, 2013 by William

The Master Suppression Technique

We are all swimming and kicking and struggling in a chaotic ocean called the workplace. When hell breaks loose, you must grab any life preserver that’s offered before it passes by. Some will throw you an anvil instead so if you can’t tell the difference between a life preserver and an anvil, you’re going to drown.

Have you ever had that feeling the world is out to get you? Is it especially true at work? Do you think all your so-called trusted colleagues, and your boss, are trying to torpedo your career? Sad fact is that that just may be the case. It’s one thing to get thrown under the bus by a colleague–hell you’d probably do the same given the chance–it’s dog eat dog out there. But it’s totally different if your boss is the one undermining your career.

In a 2010 Boss Day Survey, conducted by Monster.com, they found that more than one-third of workers (34 percent) say they are somewhat or very dissatisfied with their relationship with their boss. The study also found that 38 percent of workers indicated their boss is somewhat or very uncaring when it comes to their career development. More alarming is that, nearly half of workers (45 percent) say their boss has taken credit for their work, and another 37 percent say their boss has “thrown them under the bus” to save himself or herself. One out of four workers feels their boss is somewhat or very dishonest about their job security, and more than half (53 percent) feel their boss doesn’t respect them as a professional equal.

Given the above statistics it’s not hard to see that how you may feel is not unfounded.

The sad fact is that many bosses do, in fact, torpedo their own subordinates sometimes consciously and many times unconsciously. When malicious it’s called “The Master Suppression Technique,” a collective term for a range of practices that bosses/management use to “suppress” employees. In a nutshell there are techniques used to make an individual or group feel small or to keep that person or group “in their place.” They are techniques used to either silence, or otherwise marginalize, any person, or persons, that management sees as a threat. These techniques take many different forms, from fairly innocuous behaviors to outright oppression.

The Master Suppression Technique is a framework articulated in 1945 by the Norwegian psychologist and philosopher Ingjald Nissen. The techniques identified by Nissen are ways to indirectly suppress and humiliate opponents. In the late 1970s the framework was popularized by Norwegian social psychologist Berit Ås, who reduced Nissen’s original nine techniques to five. Master Suppression Techniques are defined as “strategies of social manipulation by which a dominant group maintains such a position in a hierarchy.” In other words techniques used to remain in power. Master Suppression Techniques are sometimes called Domination Techniques.

Berit Ås developed the theory of the Master Suppression Techniques to make a tool that can be used to identify what’s going on around you so that you can fight or flee. If you can identify the Master Suppression Techniques as they unfold you make them visible and thereby neutralize their effect. In today’s cut-throat workplace environment you need all the help you can get to survive which makes knowing them very essential and useful.

The five master suppression techniques that Berit Ås identified are:

  • Making Invisible
  • Ridiculing
  • Withholding Information
  • Damned If You Do and Damned If You Don’t
  • Heaping Blame and Putting to Shame

Berit Ås believes that these techniques are used in specific combinations and situations due to the way modern workplace organizations treat employees as objects or property–.i.e., a means to an end or a tool that’s used by management to ensure their success and reign in power.

So how do the above five techniques manifest themselves in boss behavior? At a personal level, there are many ways that a supervisor or manager can blatantly, actively or inadvertently, practice the Master Suppression Techniques and sabotage an employee’s career. They are:

  • Negligence: telling the employee that he/she will do something, yet having no intention of doing it
  • Starvation: withholding information necessary for the employee to do his job; failing to provide the employee the necessary manpower, tools, equipment, or budget to accomplish his job
  • Ostracizing: subtly, or overtly, excluding an individual from events in which he should be included if he is to be successful
  • Discrediting: personal attacks or criticisms used to create doubt about the person’s competency or credibility
  • Talking about an employee behind his or her back to the employee’s colleagues and peers.
  • Badmouthing an employee’s colleagues and peers to an employee
  • Marginalizing: excessive talking and no listening; monopolizing conversations, out-talking the employee either in a meeting or in private
  • Obstacles: actively putting obstacles in the employee’s path to success
  • Divide and Conquer: assigning two employees the same task without telling either one
  • Diversion: creating a distraction, focusing on the inconsequential, sending someone off on a “fetch me another rock” safari
  • Practicing “Pyromania” and starting fires around the organization for which employees must drop what they’re doing to “put out”
  • Playing the “Stump the Dummy” game: e.g., finding out something the employee doesn’t know and then confronting the employee saying “gotcha”
  • Workaholism: expecting all employees to be workaholics like the boss
  • Micromanaging: picking apart everything the employee does

And if it isn’t bad enough that your boss may be out to get you but there are also a number of organizational issues and circumstances that can sabotage your performance and productivity (and moral) and thus your career. They are:

  • Arrogance and ego on the part of management
  • The Red Queen Effect
  • Organizational and selective amnesia
  • A fiefdom-rich environment
  • Dysfunctional organizational communication
  • Negative motivational climate or culture
  • Performance appraisals and the focus on negative feedback
  • Poorly lived organizational values
  • An organization not in touch with reality
  • An organization running the relentless race to the bottom

There are many reasons personal to the boss for why he/she may exercise the above techniques of suppression so before you can develop a counteracting strategy to address this behavior, consider why the boss is engaging in it. The most prevalent is that the manager has deep-seated insecurity about his ability to keep his position–he has recognized he’s reached his level of incompetence. It’s also an indictment of the whole organization’s management structure.

Allowing this behavior by middle-management bosses reflects high-level managerial ineptitude. The top guy in the organization was probably hired or promoted into that position because of his skill in generating business or his track record in his/her field. In today’s business world 9 times out of 10 managers are promoted not because he or she is a great leader but because they were good sycophants. It’s an even more caustic environment when upper management also practices these techniques on their middle management minions. This is further proof of the top management’s insecurity about their positions.

There’s one last thing to remember and it’s not on either list above. If you’re in an organization running that relentless race to the bottom and lay-offs are a common event then you need to realize that the boss is doing what he’s doing because management needs to keep an up-to-date ranking of all employees for the purpose of identifying who’s next for lay-off. As lay-offs happen and the “bad performers” are purged the ranking must be updated and a new list of bad performers must be identified. The Master Suppression Techniques are the means for the bosses to be able to feel good and sleep at night.

Make no mistake–whether they admit it or not, most organizations have these ranking lists. So for all of you out there who say you’ve never been a target of any of the Master Suppression Techniques–beware your day will come–sooner or later they’ll get to you.


2 Responses to “The Master Suppression Technique”
  1. Anonymous says

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  2. Anonymous says

    Fantastic Web-site, Continue the fantastic job. Thanks a ton.|…

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