The phone rang again, and Mike looked at the display. It was Leslie, probably calling for his estimate of Marigold's delivery date. Mike and Leslie had been fencing all week, and she just wouldn't accept any date but the one she wanted. He picked up: "Mike here."
"Mike, Leslie. So what do you think for Marigold?" No small talk from Leslie.
"I understand you need it for Q3," he said, "but I don't see how we can do it. I'm recommending some contingencies."
"Mmmm, not good," Leslie replied. "I guess we need more brainpower on this one. Can you meet at 10 tomorrow?"
Leslie is coercing Mike — "more brainpower" is the key phrase. By suggesting that other people, perhaps more capable than Mike, might be able to make her date, Leslie seeks to squeeze a commitment from Mike that he's unwilling to give voluntarily.
Coercion is one of many approaches to manipulating commitment. Here are three more.Commitments
- Do it or else. That's an order. It's part of your job — now. Commands beget compliance, not commitment.
- In blindsiding, someone asks you for a commitment — usually for the first time — in a very public setting. The tactic relies on our desire to be supportive of team objectives.
- In one-more-thing, the manipulator asks for your commitment, and once you've given it, adds, "Oh, and one more thing…"
These techniques are futile, because commitments come in many colors and intensities. When we fool, persuade, or coerce people, the best we can get is a manipulated commitment. The "record" will show that we did secure a commitment, but subsequent behavior rarely produces the results we want. People who are manipulated can find ways — sometimes must find ways — to evade the commitment altogether. At best, they conform literally, without really delivering what's needed.
Manipulated commitments are like Enron's accounts — they look pretty good on paper, but there's nothing behind them. When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.
How can you tell if you're making a commitment freely? Here are some key freedoms that we all have. They are the basis of all commitments freely given.
- The freedom to say no
- If someone is asking for the impossible, "yes" is the wrong answer. You have the freedom to say no, without losing your job or being "written up" for poor performance.
- The freedom to ask for what you need
- You have the freedom to negotiate for what you need. For example, you can say, "I can do that, but I'll need about three months more to get it done."
- The freedom to know
- If you feel that someone is withholding information that would affect your decision, you have a right to inquire about it.
If you're often manipulated into commitment, you do have one more freedom — the freedom to leave. Leaving can be difficult, but it's always followed by arrival somewhere else. And arrivals can sometimes open wonderful new vistas. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Working Out on Your Dreadmill
- Many of us are experts in risk analysis and risk management. Even the non-specialists among us have
developed considerable skill in anticipating troubles and preparing plans for dealing with them. When
these habits of thought leak into our personal lives, we pay a high price.
- Conflict Haiku
- When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing
that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups
into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
- Hurtful Clichés: I
- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Maybe it's time for some thought.
- Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II
- Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set
of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.
- Unanswerable Questions
- Some questions are beyond our power to answer, but many of us try anyway. What are some of these unanswerable
questions and how can we respond?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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