Master suppression techniques

Master suppression techniques are manners of offensive discrimination, i.e. repeated unjust and negative actions towards one or several individuals in which the person(s) exposed are excluded from the working community.

In the 1970s, Berit Ås, professor of social psychology, identified five expressions of master suppression techniques; making invisible, ridiculing, withholding information, double punishment and blaming and shaming (Ås, 1978). At the time the focus was on how women were ruled by men, today it is about how everyone can practice suppression techniques.

At the time the focus was on how women were ruled by men, today it is about how everyone can practice suppression techniques.

Another two techniques have been added; Objectifying (treating a person as a commodity or an object) and violence or threats of violence (Ås, 2004). Elaine Eksvärd (2008) has also identified a number of subtle but equally offensive master suppression techniques. The Stockholm University Empowerment Network (ENSU) presents counter strategies and confirmation techniques as tools that can be used to counter and combat the master suppression techniques. Offensive treatment and behavior, and hence master suppression techniques, are covered by the requirement for systematic work environment management (Organisatorisk och social arbetsmiljö, AFS 2015:4 Organizational and Social Work Environment), AFS 2015: 4). The text below has been translated from the Umeå region website.

Master suppression techniques, counter strategies and confirmation technologies

Making invisible

This suppression technique is about being belittled and being communicated to as if you don’t matter or that what you do or say is not important in the context. The purpose of this technique is to make you feel insecure, meaningless and less important. The making invisible suppression technique can be done openly and directly, for example, by not introducing you to others in a group. Making invisible can also occur indirectly and subtly, e.g. by not paying attention when you speak or give a presentation and by not showing interest or ask questions when your talk is over.

The purpose of this technique is to make you feel insecure, meaningless and less important.

Counter strategy

A counter strategy for the making invisible suppression technique is to take up space. If you are exposed to this technique, it is important to try to act immediately and calmly show that you do not accept the way you are being treated. If a person does not listen to your presentation, explain that it is important for you that everyone listens to what you have to say.

Confirmation technology

The key to counteract a breeding ground for making invisible techniques and promote a workplace characterized by respect, is to acknowledge the people you work with or otherwise come into contact with. Listen to your colleagues, confirm them and give constructive criticism to reduce the risk of this suppression technique being used in the workplace!


The ridiculing suppression technique is characterized by people being mocked or laughed to scorn because of attributes or characteristics ascribed to their gender. Perhaps you have heard women being resembled animals, such as giddy geese or stupid cows. Or when women are said to be extra sensitive or to slander and gossip. There are numerous similar labels used to describe women but not nearly as many to ridicule men's behavior or reactions. Sometimes ridiculing includes infantilizing, e.g. being called "baby", “sweetheart” or “honey”. The ridiculing technique is meant to be fun and playful, but is not as it happens at your expense.

The ridiculing technique is meant to be fun and playful, but is not as it happens at your expense.

Counter strategy

A counter strategy to deal with the ridiculing suppression technique is to question the remarks to the person or persons who expressed them. Do not let the joke pass without commenting or questioning them and do not laugh!

Confirmation technique

In order to avoid this suppression technique at your workplace, it is important to respect and support each other. Treat each other with respect and give your colleagues space, ask them about their views and opinions!

Withholding information

When a group withholds information or addresses important issues when certain individuals are not present, this master suppression technique is exercised. Making decisions in informal places inaccessible to some people, for example in the locker room after training. This kind of technique may be demonstrated by, e.g. men automatically turning to other men, and women not accessing meeting notes, minutes, agendas etc. When it is time for the decision-making it may be too late to comment.

Men automatically turning to other men, and women not accessing meeting notes, minutes, agendas etc.

Counter strategy

The counter strategy is to demand the cards on the table and to clearly point out that no decisions are to be taken without your involvement. It is not you about you being unable to obtain information, but rather someone trying to suppress you by withholding it. Demand transparency through the entire decision-making process.

Confirmation techniques

Confirmation technique in this case is the opposite of withholding information, namely to inform. Perhaps we are not always aware of when information is withheld or when some were not given the opportunity to speak their mind. Not being involved in decision-making and knowing that decision have been made over our heads is insulting. In this case, the manager has a major responsibility of ensuring a fair decision-making process and of information being provided to all concerned.

Double punishment

Double punishment means that no matter what you do it is wrong, simply an impossible equation. Damned if you do and damned if you don't! This technique is often used against groups we prejudice. It may be that you are considered too forward or pushy when you are spontaneous or, uncertain when you are thoughtful or that you are expected to work late and at the same time have time to pick up the children early in the preschool.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

Counter strategy

To counter this master suppression technique, you should consider and decide on what is important to you and what you prioritize right now. Secondly, make your priorities clear to others. It is about breaking the pattern and making sure you cannot be everywhere and do everything at the same time!

Confirmation technique

As a confirmation technique, double reward i.e. assuming that everyone is doing their best according to their prerequisites. If our colleagues, our family and our friends know our priorities and our conditions, it's harder to have the attitude that whatever we do it is wrong. In this way, there is less ground for exerting double punishment as master suppression technology.

Blame and shame

Blame and shame is closely related to double punishment and involves you being held responsible for something that you are not. It can be described as the result of being exposed to the previous four master suppression techniques. It makes you feel that everything is your fault and that it is something wrong with you. For example, parents may feel guilt for not being able to combine family and career as expected. In other words, blame and shame is a master suppression technique that is often perceived as coming from "yourself".

You being held responsible for something that you are not.

Counter strategy

A counter strategy is primarily to try to intellectualize your own feelings of blaming and shaming and identify where they come from. Try to reflect on a situation where these feelings emerged, what really happened and what role did the people around you play? Was there anything they said or did that made you feel guilty and shameful? And why did they do that? Are there any standards or preconceived expectations in your workplace that make you feel the way you do? Are your feelings influenced by social norms or are they an expression of a gender system?

Confirmation technique

In order to avoid blame and shame being internalized and thus perceived as coming from ourselves, it is important to confirm and support each other. To understand that we live in an, in many ways unequal society and that the responsibility for your feelings comes not only from yourself but is also applied from the outside. Our social norms and gender system create different conditions for women and men and affect our view of each other and of ourselves.

(Ås 1978, Jonasson et al., 2004).

More examples

The author and rhetorical consultant Elaine Eksvärd has identified additional master suppression techniques that may be more subtle than Berit Ås, but equally offensive to those being exposed to them (Bergqvist 2008):

  • Projection method

The projection method is where you express your dissatisfaction of something, but the suppressor concludes that you are the problem, or that it is your problem to solve. The focus has therefore shifted from what you wanted to say or comment on, to yourself and your feelings.

It is your problem to solve.

  • Compliment method

The feeling when you get a compliment or a pad on your shoulder and you know that something is expected of you? It is called the complimenting method. It may be that your boss or colleague, before asking you to work late, gives you a compliments. Despite the compliments you feel discomfort or a sense of being used.

  • Stereotype method

Stereotype method is used when you violate different stereotypes. It may be that you do something that goes beyond the norm for what is expected of you depending on e.g. your sex, sexuality or ethnicity. It may also be that the suppression is based on stereotypes and preconceived ideas in a conversation with you, which may make you feel excluded or labeled . An example might be that your colleagues decide to go see a hockey match but you are not asked to come along because they assume you are not interested in hockey because you are a woman. The master suppression is based on stereotypes and preconceived ideas.

  • Exclusion method

The exclusion method has much in common with the making invisible technique. For example, attention is not directed towards you when you talk or someone immediately stops listening to you when someone else enters the room. Perhaps you have experienced exclusion by someone repeating what you just said when you are in a group? You are simply not getting attention when you should.

  • Hierarchy method

This method means that a person uses his/hers high or low rank in the hierarchy to suppress someone else. It may be that a manager uses his or her power position towards his/hers employees or gives you stereotypical titles and epithets, linked to the gender categories women and man.

  • Time method

The time method is about silencing or suppressing someone by pointing out that you have been with the company longer than the other person has. It may be that you point out that you are older and therefore have more experience or that you have been in the workplace longer and know what works or you have been in a group longer and therefore know the group dynamics better. This method is used to silence others and thus get the advantage.

  • Self-inflicted master suppression technique

Self-inflicted master suppression technique is different from the other methods, because it is about suppressing yourself to some extent by belittling what you do or say, for example, saying that "I have a small thing to say, but it may not be important and I shouldn’t take up space ". By downgrading what you say, others can take an advantage of that and execute suppression techniques against you.

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