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ASSERTIVE MOTIVATOR – SKILL 2 OF 4
2. Fogging. The Oriental martial arts are frequently classified into "hard" and "soft" styles; hard styles, like most forms of karate, emphasize straight-line punching and kicking, while soft styles, like jiu-jitsu, emphasize "yielding" techniques that redirect an opponent's momentum so that in effect he defeats himself.
Fog is a lot like jiu-jitsu; its power is the power of yielding. Travelers who get lost in the fog are not pummeled into submission, but absorbed, enveloped, and confused. In the Fogging assertion technique, you make use of the yielding principle to create a kind of easily penetrable but ultimately invincible verbal fogbank that defuses an opponent's attack by accepting it. In using Fogging, you acknowledge the validity of criticism, and thus take the wind out of your attacker's sails. In effect you are saying to the critic, "You are entirely correct, and I don't care."
Fogging is not the same thing as simply "going along" with a criticism. I call it an assertive skill because its intention, as well as its effect, is entirely the opposite of simply admitting defeat. Fogging is not an admission of defeat. It is an acknowledgment that what the critic is saying—or, in some cases, part of what the critic is saying—may have some validity. And it is used not to end a discussion by crying "Uncle," but to carry the conversation forward, by validating the other person's view and thus making it easier for him or her to keep talking.
"Keeping the person talking" is a major benefit of Reflective Listening, too, and for this reason Fogging can be compared to the Reflective Listening skills, especially that of Rephrasing. (In fact, Fogging can often be used well in conjunction with Rephrased or Empathy statements.) Smith records a Fogging exercise, which illustrates this double technique; A "Critic" and a "Learner" of the Fogging skill are discussing the Learner's nervousness about being faced with criticism.
Critic: You look nervous when I tell you things that you don't like.
Learner: I'm sure I do look nervous.
Critic: You shouldn't be nervous, I'm your friend.
Learner: That's true, I shouldn't be as nervous as I am.
Critic: I'm probably the only person who would tell you these things.
Learner: I'm sure you're right about that (sarcastically).
Critic: You were being sarcastic.
Learner: That's true, I was.
The discussion continues for two more pages, but you get the point. Fogging builds on the Zenlike truth that ultimately absorption is dispersion, victory is defeat, and that one of the best ways to take a punch is to "go with" the force of the impact. This may have little validity in the world of political antagonisms, but when the arena is personal and conversational, Fogging can be an effective tool, because it accomplishes something that toughing it out can never accomplish; it forces the antagonist to change tactics. Ironically, a common eventual result of using Fogging is that criticism lessens rather than increases.
This is a tricky and suspect point to people who are accustomed to viewing conversation as battle. I don't deny that Fogging can be a difficult technique. Few of us like to be criticized, and fewer still are comfortable in "welcoming" attacks on ourselves. But there is a profound difference between simply "taking the punch" and deflecting it as in Fogging. That difference, in terms of interactional dynamics, is simply that the Fogger is in control.
Look back at the passage I just quoted from Manuel Smith. In that passage the Critic is consistently on the attack, but if you read between the lines it's clear that the Learner is directing the exchange. Whatever tack the Critic takes, and no matter how personal or insulting he becomes, eventually he can make no headway, because everything he says is given credence. The moral is subtle and useful: aggression depends on resistance,
and if there is no resistance, aggression may eventually be defused. This is an especially useful tactic in "one down" conflict situations, where you're trying to influence the Behavior of an aggressive, badgering superior.
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