How often do you create a diversion when you are at work? It may be more often than you think. The art of diverting a question or decision can be a useful tactic, if done well.

Sometimes the diversion is permanent; other times, it buys you time to think through your strategy more carefully. Robert Greene, author of the The 48 Laws of Power shares:

Law #3: Conceal Your Intentions

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions it will be too late.

There are two ways Greene suggests creating diversions by using decoys or red herrings and smoke screens.

Decoys or Red Herrings

Negotiations are good places to find decoys. Here is an example: Let us assume that you have an offer for a position out of state. Before accepting the position, some of the financial details are still unresolved to your satisfaction.

Your goal is to optimize the right combination of base pay, bonus, benefits and relocation costs, given your personal situation.

The company is not aware that their initial base pay offer represents 20% more than what you are making today. Your main concern is the cost of relocation since you are living in a depressed real estate market.

The company’s offer is to move your household goods only, leaving you responsible for selling and purchasing a new home. The financial burden of relocation reduces the likelihood of your acceptance. What do you do? Walk away or use another strategy?

The straight shooter might put all their cards on the table, letting the company know what they want. If the company is holding the line on cost containment, they maybe firm in their position. Creating a decoy might help you get what you want.

When two parties are trying to find an agreement, knowing what the other party values will give you the upper hand.


“Manipulation” is the word that comes to a colleague’s mind when I talk about diversion. I ask him to describe it. His response is someone that does not demonstrate good teamwork or playing fair with others.

While at face value, you may believe manipulation is a bad behavior, it is an integral part of diversion. Let us look at a few examples.

Politicians. In my opinion, I often do not know where they stand on things. Discussions are vague, often lacking detail and substance. Grey areas are welcome. Hot seats are avoided.

People in General. It can be frustrating to talk to someone that masks how he or she really feels about a topic. I am not talking about being a people pleaser. Fundamentally, it is more about making a decision not to share their point of view…for whatever reason.

My Colleague. He does not believe he uses manipulation or diversion to his advantage. As we get further into the discussion, it becomes obvious – he is not exempt.

If there is a problem to be solved and someone wants his advice, there are times he is not ready to share his perspective. For whatever reason – he may not know the person or he believes they may judge his opinion. His smooth avoidance response is, “I can appreciate the problem.” How can anyone argue with that statement?

Co-Worker. I think back to a business colleague of mine who, at the time, I questioned how he got to the level he was in the organization. People would approach him to ask a question. Sometimes the answer was evasive, or he would answer an entirely different question. His eye contact would shift to the side and his body language loudly told you “you’ve asked me a question I don’t want to answer.”

I find it remarkable that these people are often the survivors, most likely an outcome of using their diversion power effectively. How well do you do?