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Spotting and stopping the 'us vs. them' manipulation tactic

Inmates will use the 'us vs. them' tactic to separate one member of the staff from the support of their coworkers; here's how to spot it and stop it before trouble ensues


Divide and conquer. It is at this point we must decide to stand united. Inmates know that if staff remain united, we cannot be conquered. It is in staff's ability to stand tall and trust each other that the unbreakable bond of strength is created. An inmate spends all day looking for a weakness. An inmate needs to find a way to separate this unbreakable bond that has been created by staff and exploit its vulnerabilities. Inmates know that, individually, we are vulnerable. An inmate knows that manipulative tactics can be better employed by separating staff and then enforcing inmate support. This, in essence, is the beginning of the "us vs. them" tactic.

As individuals, we may feel the need, or motivation, to belong or connect. It is within this basic human need that an inmate can easily find a way to divide and conquer staff. The inmate will take advantage of any situation in which staff is perceived as separate from the whole. This separation can occur through the disposition of the staff member, or through a situation that arises in which a staff member has been pushed away from support staff.

This separation is paramount and aids the inmate tremendously as they begin to employ their manipulative tactics.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Go on the Offensive
The question, then, is: how can staff be separated? It is within these answers that a shield and sword can be created that enables staff to defend their position and even gain ground. I say gain ground because the inmate's main goal is to gain control and be on the offensive. Inmates employ manipulative tactics in an effort to gain ground and push forward. In order for this to occur, staff members have to be pushed into a defensive position in which the next step committed by the inmate causes the staff member to fall back and lose ground.

In essence, a mind game ensues. Inmates have all the time to think their strategy through and plan an offensive that can be easily compared to a game of chess where the opposing player is thinking three to five steps ahead of their opponent. As in chess, inmates have the time to think things through and every act on their part brings about a reaction from staff that runs in accordance with their well thought out plan. By these standards, if staff remain defensive, they will never gain ground and will be constantly pushed back by the offensive strategies employed by the manipulative inmate.

Inmates will exploit any conflict between staff, or any working conditions that may cause rise to negative affect. Inmates will become that sympathetic ear when that staff member begins to voice their complaints. By listening to staff, the inmate is able to construct a rapport that paints a picture of companionship and trust. By this standard, the inmates are bringing about a group mentality which gives birth to two opposing forces that will formulate into the "us (inmate along with single staff member) vs. them (the rest of staff)".

This is the element that we need to explore. The intragroup dynamic of any group can be strengthened by the conflict that centers on the outside group, or the intergroup relationship. In short, through the feelings of competition with an outside group, the inner strength of the opposing group is strengthened.

Us vs. Them
The inmate is aware that they must first separate the staff member from the rest of staff and then move them over to the opposing group (inmates). At this point, the inmates can exploit multiple tactics that can relate to sympathy, friendliness, or even similarities (ethnicity, religion). The premise at this point is to get the staff member to drop their guard.

Support staff may begin to spot a change in the, soon to be, separated staff member and may try multiple attempts to warn them that they are being played. These multiple attempts will fail because the staff member will become defensive as they are pulled father and further away from support. On a side note, there are certain signs that support staff can look for so they can recognize a targeted staff member.

These signs can include a level of comfortability between staff member and inmate (observed by verbal and non-verbal communication), their inability to communicate with staff, the lack of control in the staff member's respected area, their defense of the inmate population, and, when not assigned to that certain area, the tainted staff member will find themselves there amongst the population.

Breaking the connection
Moving forward, the connection between inmates and staff member has been made and is reinforced by partnership words (us) and separation words (them). Once the staff member has been drawn into the inmate's group, inmates will strengthen the connection by the constant promotion of conflict between staff and the constant promotion of understanding by the inmates. Eventually, the inmates will be able to say freely to the tainted staff member that you are one of us and the staff member will sit in agreement.

The separation that has occurred, powered by inmate maneuverability, gives the tainted staff member the needed justification to switch sides and commit their indiscretions. This tactic can be developed over time, or can be gift wrapped in the form of public conflict that lay in view of the inmate population. Negative verbal expressions about the workplace can also bring about a connection between staff and inmate that can be exploited into a "us vs. them".

In closing, we, as staff, are only as strong as our weakest link. If we sense that the link is about to be broken, we need to stand behind it and reinforce its strength. One weak link can open us up and make us all vulnerable.

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