Force Prompt: It’s like Sith Lightning, only nastier.

Note: I continue in my *not* actually endorsing any of this in anyway; it’s more than a little vicious. But it is interesting to study.

A while back, now, Dan made a a post about what we called the ‘Dark Side’ of Active Listening, which we’d recently talked about. In it, he describes a couple of what are, basically, Dark Side force powers; taking the skills of Active Listening and twisting them to your own ends.

I was on a train, today, and I came up with another one. I haven’t actually tried it on anyone, of course. [Although, just occasionally, I worry that I may’ve invented the entire Dark Side out of absent-minded stubborness…]

During the course of what we shall call a ‘normal’ conversation, you may’ve noticed that people cut across one another, in a bid to say whatever it is they want to say. During a ‘listening’ conversation, on the other hand, the Force User, doing the bulk of the listening, is likely to give out signals to the person doing the (bulk of) the talking.

You’ll probably have heard ’em, at some point or other – things like “Mm-hm,” and “go on,” and so-forth. These utterances don’t interrupt the flow of the talking, and don’t take too much brain-power to process, so whoever’s talking doesn’t have to take their mind of their own thought process to see if they need to work out a response; they’re just little prompts from the listening Force User to show that they’re still paying attention, and aren’t sat their composing a shopping list and looking blank.

Enter the new Dark Side power: Force Prompt.

By way of illustration, I shall carry on from where Dan’s original example, in which a boss demanded to speak to a tardy employee, left off: we join the scene in the boss’s plush corner office, where the boss is winding up his talk to the tardy guy – an avid Darksider, as we have already seen.

Boss: …I mean, looking at the records, you’ve been late in in the mornings on more than 20 of the previous 31 working days which frankly isn’t good enough.
Boss: Not only that, but you’ve also been leaving early for lunch on a regular basis, and you’re often not back at your desk until gone 2:15. Now I know that you’re not having any problems at home, because we have discussed this before, and you’ve always said everything was fine,* so I really can’t see any explanation for this other than sheer laziness.
Darksider: Mmm.
Boss: Frankly, I’m afraid it’s all getting rather serious; I can afford to give you one last chance to sort this out, but I’m afraid it really will be one final chance.
Darksider: OK…
Darksider: … Go on…

That’s the Darksider using Force Prompt, right there; the Boss has wrapped up what he wants to say, and, because the Darksider hasn’t been interrupting, but has just been listening attentively, he’s said everything he wants or needs to say – the Darksider’s given him all the space he needs to say what he wants, and so the Boss has, logically enough, said it.

Then the Darksider prompts him to continue.

In essence, having listened so well to what the Boss has to say, the Darksider now refuses to stop listening.

The Boss, then, has nothing left to say, and is left with two realistic options:

1) He can repeat bits of what he’s already said, which is likely to make him sound rambling and vacant, as he searches for a new way to phrase what he’s said only seconds before.

(Even if the Boss takes this option, the Darksider can carry on listening all day; at some point the Boss is going to be driven into the second option:)

2) The Boss can send a clear, definite signal that there’s nothing left to listen to: “OK, well, I’ve said my piece,” for example, or “Well, er, that’s all I’ve got to say, really,” – a sentences which shift the balance of authority and automatically make it sound like the Boss is apologising for taking up the Darksider’s time by talking to him.

Finally, of course, the Boss can skip options 1) and 2) and try for the really brave option 3):

3) Say Nothing and Wait

… And Wait…

…And Wait…

He’s onto a losing battle with this one, although it’s a gutsy move to try: the Darksider can just sit there in silence, with an open posture, and with his head slightly to one side, still listening to the Boss. That’s pretty cruel of the Darksider, since many people don’t get on well with silence, and especially not in situations like this one, where the Boss is going to end up running back over what he just said and thinking of ways it would’ve sounded better.

Eventually, the Boss is going to be forced into taking something like option 2, just to stop the silence and deliberately cue the Darksider into talking. That’s fine; the damage should be done, by then…

…Even if it really, really is the Darksider’s last chance, the whole encounter is likely to leave his Boss feeling strangely uneasy – because the Darksider forced a shift in the balance of power – and, with a bit of luck, won’t be in a hurry to call the Darksider back, even to sack him, because he associates talking to the Darksider with feeling awkward and not knowing what to say.

Like I say, I’ve not tried it on anyone. I’m not really a big fan of Darksiding as an actual course of action, and I don’t suggest you do it. On the other hand, it’s fascinating stuff, and I’m pretty sure this is a Darkside tactic that’s going to battle it out with Force Mishearing for my favourite Darkside power.

And I really do think it’s fascinating how something really useful like Active Listening can be warped into something genuinely cruel and heartless. Scary. But fascinating.

This Jolly Thought For the Summer Holidays was brought to you by Mister JTA’s Random Evilness, 2006. Terms & conditions apply.

* [Note that I never said the Boss was especially sensible]

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  1. On August 01, 2006 Scatman Dan says:

    The student becomes the master.

  2. On August 01, 2006 Jon says:

    These essays should have a website of their own.


  3. On August 01, 2006 Statto says:

    Is there not a fourth option for the boss?

    Rather than saying a weak “Err…I’m kind of done”-type phrase which undermines him, could he not go for some more punchy, perjorative and possibly offensive?

    He’s obviously already quite pissed off with the Darksider above, so my preferred option would range somewhere from:

    Boss: Haven’t you got anything to say?
    Boss: [pause] The reason I paused, you moronic nonentity, is not because I’d got anything else to say, which I clearly hadn’t as any fool with a semblance of understanding of human social interaction would have understood from the phraseology and context of my concluding statements, but in order that you could respond, be it to argue, make excuses, or just resign and save me from having to make this frankly patronising speech. I think I shall save you the trouble: you’re fired. Conversation with you has been difficult and annoying since you started here, to the extent that I might even suspect that you were being purposely awkward if I didn’t know that you’re just an idiot. So, to reiterate, get out of my damn office.

    I realise the purpose of this Dark Side Active Listening stuff is to infuriate the poor victim, but unless that is your sole aim, I think that the inveitable irritation caused might outweigh the benefits, especially in a situation like this…

  4. On August 01, 2006 JTA says:


    I suppose you could Darkside simply to infuriate people, although I dunno how much fun it would be; it’s more about power. Broadly speaking, Active Listening empowers whoever’s being listened to; Darksiding ‘abuses’ that so the Darksider shifts the balance of power in their favour.

    Even with your option 4) “Boss loses his temper” that’s still a victory for the Darksider – the boss has lost control of himself over practically nothing; sure someone not realising you’ve finished talking’s annoying, but the Boss is going to have a hard time justifying getting all cross when, basically, the Darksider can explain he was deffering to the Boss’s seniority, and listening to him.

    Indeed, I’d argue that the Darksider could really benefit from the Boss having a full-blown red-faced scream at him and sacking him there and then: by doing so, the Boss is going to end up wondering, afterwards, why he over-reacted, and may well find himself apologising, thus solidifying the position of the Darksider in the office.

    An additional point I’ll make here is that I don’t think the boss is likely to say “Conversation with you has been difficult and annoying since you started here” unless there’s a serious non Dark Side-related problem – the Darksider isn’t going to be using the Dark Side tricks all the time, because, more than 95% of the time, you shouldn’t need to tip the balance of power in your favour. And if you don’t need to Darkside, then you really shouldn’t.

    As we all know, the Dark Side is a corrupting force, it’s hard to use it and not get a bit tainted by the power. Too much of that, and you’re in trouble. But in a tight corner, it’s probably OK to even things up a bit so you come out OK. If the Boss has had trouble communicating with the Darksider since they first met, that’s a problem that’s probably too deep for simple Dark Force Powers to get you out of – Active Listening requires some level of rapport, remember; without that it’s just someone nodding and muttering wile trying to look attentive.

    But, yeah: option four is unlikely, unless the Boss is a bit prone to blowing his top anyway (in which case it’s “just another outburst from old misery guts”), and if it happens, then it’s just another weight tipping things to the Darksider’s favour.

    Hope that clears that one up!

  5. On August 01, 2006 Statto says:

    Hmm…I’m not sure.


    Indeed, I’d argue that the Darksider could really benefit from the Boss having a full-blown red-faced scream at him and sacking him there and then: by doing so, the Boss is going to end up wondering, afterwards, why he over-reacted, and may well find himself apologising, thus solidifying the position of the Darksider in the office.

    …is madness! “I’m now unemployed, but at least I’ve scored some cheap social power points over the boss”?! Sounds like a Pyrrhic victory to me…

    I also think that in my exaggerated top-blowing, I over-emphasised that option. The boss still has the distinctly non-aggravated option of

    Boss: Haven’t you got anything to say?

    which I also suggested. This should surely entirely flummox the darksider, because the boss is now in the socially superior position?

    Your response seems to dwell more than I would like on painting a complex social backdrop of general unease read into a single flippant sentence of my purposely-over-the-top rant!

  6. On August 01, 2006 JTA says:

    The “Haven’t you got anything to say” option is better then yelling, but it’s still not great – it’s not going to flummox the Darksider; at worst, he’s in the “normal” position of a non-Darksider who then has to explain himself. But even then, the Boss is likely to have been thrown off, and is now obliged to listen to what the Darksider has to say without interrupting too much – he’s invited the comment, after all, so he can’t very well say he doesn’t want to know when the Darksider says whatever he says.

    Meanwhile, if the Boss does fire the Darksider in a fit of rage, the point isn’t that the Darksider has scored cheap points, it’s that the Boss is more likely to recant a dismissal issued in a rage; if he’s got to the stage where he’s going to say that, then it’s likely to be something that’ll happen anyway, but sacking someone in a rage isn’t as neat as sacking someone calmly and efficiently, and it’s likely to make the Boss doubt his motives – it’s not a victory to get sacked, but if that happens, then it’s likely to happen in spite of Darksiding, not as a result (I am, of course, assuming a level of competence in the Darksider, rather than him being some Roman Agent-like sociopath who’s just Darksiding for the sake of it. Instead, there’s a chance that the Boss will think “That’s a bit harsh,” and revert to the giving one last chance that he offered two minutes ago.

    Apologies if the previous response seemed too focused on picking you up on saying the Darksider’s impossible to talk to (looking back it is about half said response) but I wasn’t sure if you were just being over-the-top or if you’d misunderstood and assumed that Darksiding is a full-time thing.

    But, yeah: even if the Boss says “Haven’t you got anything to say,” the Darksider has a) not lost anything, then being in the same position as a non-Force User, and has b) a high chance that the Boss will have to listen to his explanation without picking too many holes in it. It’s a subtle shift of the balance, sure, but it’s better than nothing.

  7. On August 16, 2006 Scatman Dan says:

    Darksiding to infuriate *is* fun, and a great way to win a moral victory in an otherwise unwinnable argument.

    Hmm; perhaps Jon is right. Time for a dedicated site for this kind of thing…