In my previous post, Tricks Human Resources (HR) Plays that You MUST Know About, I discussed several different games HR will play, particularly if you are dealing with a difficult situation regarding someone higher on the totem pole than you are. Most people are unaware of these tricks and will not even notice that they are being set up to look like the culprit – until the end. If you have not read my previous post, I recommend you do so before reading further.
In this post, you will learn how to set yourself up for success even when your HR professional is setting you up for failure. I will teach you how you can overcome some of their biggest traps and make them wonder how you know their secrets and who you have been getting coaching from. I will teach you how to handle these tricks and have them work in your favor.
HR’s goal is to get you to trust them while they make you feel confused and convinced that you are wrong and they are right. If their attempts do not work, they will provoke you and make you feel unsupported and alone. Their goal is to get you shaking in your boots. After reading this post, chances are you will have them shaking in theirs.
Again, I would like to put in a disclaimer. There are fantastic HR professionals out there who truly care about being objective and fair. They want to do the right thing without bias. However, these individuals are few and far between. I have written this article to help the many who are not fortunate enough to have a fair HR professional.
Tricks HR Plays and How to Beat Them
The Distraction and “Spill the Beans” Tricks
When you meet with your HR representative, one of their main goals will be to subtly distract you from the actual conversation. They will do this by asking questions that eventually lead you down a rabbit hole before you know what is happening. They are doing this to distract you and also to get more, and often irrelevant, information from you. They will use the information that they get from you, twist it around and make you out to be the culprit. Suddenly, the issue that you came to HR to discuss is no longer important. YOU being the “culprit” is what is important.
How to overcome this tactic: In order to make sure you stay focused and do not go off topic do the following:
1. Be clear in your mind why you are meeting with HR and what you are going to tell them. Be very strict about what you will and will not discuss. Keep this in mind at all times so that you will be well aware if the discussion starts to veer off in another direction.
2. Make sure that you only mention/discuss people who are directly involved in your situation. Do not mention any one else – no teammates, no clients, no mentors, etc.
3. Take notes and do not let anyone in the room see what you are writing. Keep the notepad in your lap and do not let it slouch if HR starts to make you feel comfortable. Make sure you are not sitting near any mirrors. Taking notes and hiding your notepad alone will worry your HR representative because this is a trick HR uses and not one that other people use. They will also be nervous about the fact that you are documenting things. Furthermore, taking notes will help you keep the pace of the conversation slow as you take time to write things down. This will make sure things do not get out of hand as it is easy to get lost in the emotions and flow of the conversation.
4. Remember that the HR representative should be doing most of the talking and you should be doing most of the listening. You may need to give them a quick introduction, but the whole point of the conversation is for them to advise you as your advocate.
5. Pause after each sentence or thought that you say in your meetings. This will prevent you from saying too much. If, as you pause, you realize you have said too much you will know to stop yourself in which case you should follow step 6 –
6. If you feel you are saying too much or that the HR representative is asking too many questions and leading you down unnecessary paths, turn the question around on your representative. Ask them, “So what guidance can you provide me as my HR advocate?” This will put the onus on them to do what they are supposed to be doing – advising you.
The Silent Treatment Trick
In your meeting with HR, HR should be doing most of the talking. Yes, you may want to give a quick introduction to the situation but you should have emailed them prior to the meeting with the details of the situation. HR should already know the situation and should be the ones advising and talking. However, in order to get you to talk instead, HR will get very quiet. They do this because they know it will make you uncomfortable and that you will feel compelled to fill in the silence by talking. When you start talking because you feel compelled to, you may start talking about things that are not relevant or you may try to justify yourself because the silence makes you feel like HR is questioning your judgment or words.
How to overcome this tactic:
1. Do not fall for this trap! Instead, use this trick yourself. Be silent and wait for HR to start speaking instead. This will work on them just as effectively as it works on you. They may not even be aware of what you are doing because they are not expecting it from you. Or they may be confused about how you know their trap.
2. Take notes during this period if you start feeling too awkward about the silence. It will give you something to do and it may push HR to want to talk even more because they will see that you are documenting and they may want to distract you.
3. If the silence persists, ask HR for their guidance. This will end the silence but it will also force HR to focus on the issue at hand.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Trick
HR will almost certainly try to provoke you and the most common way they do this is by telling you that you feel or are acting in a negative way. In doing this, you get put on the defensive which starts making you act in the way that they say you are acting – a self fulfilling prophecy. The common way that they do this is by asking you why you are being so defensive, or telling you that “you are getting defensive”. They may substitute “defensive” with other words like irritable, upset, etc. but their intent is the same.
How to overcome this tactic: You must make sure you do not react. Remember, this is just a game that they are playing with you. Do not let them take charge of who you really are. Instead, turn the situation around and replace their description of you with a different description. If they say you are being defensive or that you seem upset, say something like “I am not being defensive, I am just very disappointed. I thought you were supposed to be my advocate but instead I feel like I have to explain myself to everyone. I am just very disappointed about the way that I am being treated.”
You are being treated unfairly and if they are going to try to provoke you, tell them you are disappointed, tell them they are treating you unfairly, tell them you are very sad. Chances are once you say a statement like the one I said in the previous paragraph, HR will not try to provoke you again in that way. If they do, just keep saying the same thing “I am not being x, I am disappointed…”
The Know-It All Trick
Even though the facts are plain and clear and there is no doubt that you are correct and you have been treated unfairly, HR will still try every trick in the book to convince you that you are wrong or mistaken or that you are the one that is the problem. Especially if you look younger or if you are not caving to their other techniques, HR will try to intimidate you and make you question yourself. They will do this by telling you that they have x number of years of business experience or x number of years of HR experience and that they know what they are doing. If HR does not use this to intimidate you, they will use it to gain your trust in their ability to be the judge of who is right or wrong – you being the one that is wrong.
How to overcome this tactic: At the end of the day you are know you are being treated unfairly and you need to remember this. Do not let them get to you and convince you that you are asking for too much or that you should be grateful for the way you are being treated because other people have it worse*. Do not let them intimidate you because they have more experience or are older than you are. Remember, we all put our pants on one leg at a time.
1. If they try this tactic on you simply tell them, “I respect that you have x years of experience, but I know how people should be treated and this is not how people should be treated.” Or you can say, “You maybe know more about HR/business than I do but I know how people should be treated and this is not how people should be treated.”
2. The above statement will be enough but HR almost always has some kind of empty rebuttal. If so, or if they keep bringing up their experience and you want to add in a little variety you can ask them, “Do you think the way that I am being treated is fair?”
3. You can also ask your HR representative, “If you were in my situation and your manager blindsided you, how would you feel? Do you think that would be fair?” In this case I used the scenario where a manager blindsides one of her employees in some way, but you can use whatever situation you are in.
*If they imply that others have it worse, you should let them know that it is extremely frightening that the state of the company has become one where the way you are being treated is considered “fortunate” or the norm.
The Throw People Under the Bus Trick
One way HR will try to earn your trust is by throwing others under the bus. If they know that you felt like you were being brushed off by another HR representative, the new HR representative may agree with you and say that the other representative did not do a good job and that they will make sure that person is reprimanded. The new HR representative may agree with you and say that your manager is not handling things well and that they will also be reprimanded.
How to overcome this tactic: In this case, just make sure you are aware that they may do this and that you do not trust or fall for this tactic. Do not get comfortable with them and let them lead you down unnecessary conversational avenues. Why would you trust someone who is throwing other people under the bus? Keep them focused on the points you want to discuss and the fact that as your advocate they should be guiding you.
The We-Already-Knew Trick
If you have been blindsided by your manager, your HR representative will likely tell you that they have previously been made aware of your issues and that they are sorry that you feel like this is coming to you as a surprise. HR does this to confuse you and make you question yourself. They are also doing this to make you lose hope and feel unsupported. However, they cannot succeed with this trick if you follow my advice.
How to overcome this tactic: Their claim that they, HR, have known about your “issues” for a while makes absolutely no sense! How is it that everyone else has been made aware of your issues except for you? Shouldn’t they have told you? You are the person who should be the first to find out!
1. If HR uses this trick, tell them: “It is great that you have been made aware of these “issues”, but your knowing does not help me.”
2. HR will likely counter by saying again that they are sorry that you feel like you have not been informed. If they do so, ask them to provide you with an email from HR to you or even from your manager to you where they indicated that you had issues. Or ask for a performance review where they mentioned this. If you are being treated unfairly, they will not have anything to show you because they never informed you. They will likely tell you that documentation does not mean anything, but they are bluffing.
3. If you want to push it further at this point, you can ask them how HR plans to handle this type of situation (the fact that they were aware of your issues, yet they did not inform you) going forward.
The Poker Bluff Trick
HR will certainly have noticed that you are taking scrupulous notes during your meetings with them. Additionally, if you have documentation that supports your claims, mention it but do not show it to them. You do not want to show all of your cards. Also, you should be sending follow up emails to your HR professional after each meeting, documenting what was discussed. You may even want to cc their boss and their boss’s boss.
All of this will make them nervous and they will try to convince you that documentation does not matter and that it is a waste of time. If you are doing anything else that makes them nervous, they will again convince you that your efforts are for naught.
How to overcome this tactic: Make sure you do not get sucked in. I have been told more than once that “documentation does not matter” or “at this company, we do not do documentation.” None of that is true, documentation does matter. Do not let them convince you otherwise. Just remember this and keep documenting and sending follow up emails after your discussions.
Remember, when you first start at a company HR is the one who encourages people to document and document and document. And honestly, if it really was not that important, why is HR so worried about it? Why are they trying to convince you that your efforts are futile?
Always remember that when you are talking to an HR professional it is all just a corporate game. Albeit not a fun game, but it is a game that they are forcing you to play. If you follow my advice above, you will have a strong grasp of the rules and strategies.
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