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Psych-Ops: Psychological Operations (Psy-Ops)

Systemic Solutions with Martyn Carruthers


Psychological operations (psych-ops or psy-ops) refer to the planned use of psychological knowledge to influence the behavior of groups, organizations or populations. Although associated with guerilla warfare, rebellion and subversion; many marketing and political strategies include psych-ops techniques ... including office politics and social engineering.

An organization can protect itself from psych-ops manipulation by recognizing the warning signs, defusing the tactics and convincing members to commit to a common mission.

The methodologies developed to prevent psych-ops provides a knowledge base for:

  • leaders who wish to protect the interests of an organization
  • executives considering major organizational change
  • managers who wish to comprehend political realities
  • people who wish to recognize organizational strategies

"Persuasive efforts are labeled propaganda when someone judges that the action which is the goal of the persuasive effort will be advantageous to the persuader but not in the best interests of the persuadee (...) We can study propaganda as we can study good and evil. We don't make the judgments but we can study the phenomena so judged."
-- Roger Brown, Words and Things (1958)

Psychological Warfare

1. military warfare by propaganda: tactics that use propaganda to try to demoralize an enemy in war, usually including civilian populations
2. nonmilitary psychological undermining: the use of psychological tactics to disconcert and disadvantage an opponent in an everyday or a business context, for example, causing fear
(Microsoft Encarta 2003.)

History of Psych-Ops

Psychological operations go back to at least the ancient Greek wars and the fall of Troy (the Trojan Horse operation continues to affect computer operations). More recently, the American Office of War Information disseminated propaganda in the USA and abroad, and the American Office of Strategic Service (OSS) provided psychological operations against perceived or potential enemies. Other countries followed their lead.

Peacetime applications of psych-ops are perhaps most evident in political election campaigns. Common techniques used to influence public attitude and opinion are:

  • using radio and television to distort events
  • manufacturing "news" in staged events
  • recruiting and using opinion leaders and media figures
  • adjusting appeals to group interests (e.g. trade unions)

Large commercial interests, such as steel, oil, logging and railroad companies initiate extensive psych-ops to develop public support for legislation favorable to their interests. Similarly, civil rights and other movements may use low-budget psychological operations - for example protest marches, assemblies, picketing and sit-ins - often with much less expertise.

Psychological operations have maximum effect with people who:

  • have little education
  • accept information uncritically
  • benefit from the proposed change
  • want to believe the propaganda
  • do not wish to understand their own motivations

Psychological operations are also used by anti-nuclear groups, women’s rights activists, pro-abortion and anti-abortion groups, gun-control lobbies, supporters of capital punishment, senior citizen groups, and small political organizations. Recent advances of electronic media (e.g. internet and cell phones) greatly expand the influence of psych-ops efforts.

Psych-Ops Missions

Psychological operations are designed to change the attitudes, and activities of an organization. A common psych-ops goal is to use propaganda to provide multiple opportunities for members of an organization to identify with new or changed missions. Such organizational missions may include takeovers, mergers, changes of ownership etc

The identification with a mission can be divided into systemic steps applying the hierarchy of logical types described by Dr Gregory Bateson in "Logical Categories of Learning and Communicating" (Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972). Further applications are inherent in the research of Dr Clare Graves, in his studies of the evolution of organizational behavior.

Recruit influential people into a hierarchy with offers of power, security and material rewards. (Such recruits may test and attempt to exploit the existing leadership hierarchy.)

Find people who provide information that can be used during a Psych-Ops campaign. Informants can be found or planted in critical groups, or where resistance may be anticipated. (Such "spies" and "moles" are heroes of many novels and movies.)

Create effective propaganda that changes attitudes This is achieved if people identify with a new or changed mission. Propaganda is used to extend this identification to increase popular support for a mission and provide points of convergence for transformative action.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) was created in 1937 to alert the public to political propaganda. The IPA identified seven basic propaganda tricks: Name-Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfers, Testimonials, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon. According to Combs and Nimmo (1993), "these seven devices have been repeated so frequently in lectures, articles and textbooks ever since that they have become ... synonymous with the practice and analysis of propaganda."

Propaganda Teams
Form Propaganda Teams by selecting and training persuasive, motivated people, who move within an organization and encourage people to support the organizational mission. Trained Propaganda Teams can provide a multi-stage persuasion program that integrates strategic planning with organizational attitudes. Propaganda Teams can also provide feedback about rumors and attitude changes. This role is fulfilled by secret police in authoritarian societies.

Covert Members
Recruit established professionals - doctors, lawyers, managers, etc, to participate covertly. Their authority influences members of an organization towards a changed mission.

In some cultures, bribing officials is a normal, accepted way to get things done. In the West, many people are bribed - although the risks are high and exposure can be damaging. Western governments and major corporations often offer bribes publicly. Publicized bribery is commonplace and difficult to attack.

Mass Meetings
Mass meetings may be controlled through operatives placed or recruited in organizations such as trade unions, groups or professional associations. Operatives can prepare a mental attitude to be transformed into votes. A small focused group can provide an impression of a wide popular backing and motivate behavior change in thousands of people.

If infiltration, propaganda, covert influence and controlled meetings are developed parallel to strategic operations (e.g. press releases, lawsuits and stock market moves), an order for fusion (coordinated completion of planned actions) completes a psych-ops mission.

Prevent Coercive Persuasion . Exit Coaching

Defense against Psych-Ops

Protect your organization from psych-ops manipulation, influence and control.

  • meaningful adult education
  • recognize and dissolve persuasion
  • change organizational missions
  • support new or changed missions
  • develop trust between stakeholders
  • socio-political leadership

Convince for Commitment

Influence people with suggestion, fear or marketing provides short term agreement. Convince people with integrity provides long-term commitment towards common goals.

This workshop provides a methodology for convincing people - in ordinary conversation - to a cooperative effort or mission, while defusing attacks, delays and persuasion.



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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email