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What is Fogging?

Fogging is a conversation technique recommended by Manuel J Smitth in his book When I Say No, I Feel Guilty for dealing with manipulative criticism in an assertive way. It involves acknowledging any parts of the criticism which are true whilst not responding to other aspects of the criticism or to exaggerations in the criticism. The idea is that your critic who may be expecting a denial or a riposte or an angry response which they can then challenge is instead met by something which it is harder directly to attack (just as if you throw a stone at a fog, it may simply disappear). You acknowledge the literal or partial truth in what the other person is saying but you don't react to implicit sugestions in what they are saying and you don't commit yourself to doing things that the other person may want you to do but hasn't explicitly asked you to do. To use the technique you have to listen very carefully to what the other person is saying and be precise in your replies.

Key Elements of Fogging

Key elements of the fogging technique are:

Here is an example of how someone (Becky in my example below) might use the technique in conversation:

Example of Fogging

Becky responds to Ian's criticism of her untidiness by using fogging:

Ian: 'The bedroom is a complete mess!'

Becky: 'You're right - it is messy.' (Becky here applies fogging principles by accepting the element of messiness but not getting involved with responding to the word 'complete' and it's implicit negative connotations).

Ian: 'It really annoys me when you leave the place in such a state.'

Becky: 'Yes, I can see you're annoyed. Tidiness isn't one of my strong points.' (Becky is here using fogging by acknowledging the truth in Ian's statement without responding to the implied negative comment and value judgement on her).

Ian: 'Not one of your strong points! You'd make a five year old look like the most organised person in the world!'

Becky: 'I agree I am often not very organised.'(Again, Becky agrees with what she accepts and ignores the pejorative, personal element in Ian's criticism).

Ian: 'It's maddening - can't you see that it annoys people.'

Becky: 'You're probably right - some people might find it annoying.' (Becky accepts the statement to a degree without endorsing it wholeheartedly).

Ian: 'The clothes are all over the place, the wastpaper basket is overflowing and the bed looks like it hasn't been made for a week!'

Becky: 'It's true I didn't make the bed this morning.' (Becky calmly acknowledges an element of truth in Ian's comments without responding to the exaggerations or seeking to justify herself).

Ian: 'I don't know if you're ever going to change - it's infuriating!'

Becky: 'Yes, I can see you are angry about it.' (Becky acknowledges Ian's sentiment in a calm way but doesn't commit to doing anything in particular).

What does Fogging Achieve?

Fogging helps you to avoid responding anxiously to manipulative criticism. Instead you have the confidence to respond precisely and calmly, remembering that you don't need to deny, argue or justify yourself. The person using the technique (Becky in my example) is forced to listen very closely to what the other person is saying, which is a key communication skill and an important element in being assertive. Thus Becky concentrates on those aspects of what Ian is saying that she can agree with and doesn't get lost in an emotional reaction to the unstated or implied negative judgements on her in what he is saying.

Fogging can also be useful in preventing you from being drawn into an unhelpful tit-for-tat argument with the other person where you both end up trying to prove a point and become more and more entrenched in justifying yourself.

Problems with Fogging

One potential difficulty with fogging is that when using it you can appear to be sarcastic or to be mocking the other person - if that happens it can provoke a negative response! Try practising the technique of fogging in a calm way by just being attentive to exactly what is being said by the other person and responding to that in a precise way as described. Then it can work in preventing the other person from making you feel guilty or angry or anxious. It can also help you to be more self aware, as you reflect on what you are prepared to acknowledge about yourself. Be careful how you use the fogging technique, however: If you come across as being sarcastic or pedantic then the other person may get annoyed and feel that you are being obstructive, infuriating or worse!


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