Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 44;   October 30, 2002: Manipulated Commitments

Manipulated Commitments

by

Manipulated or coerced commitment looks pretty good on paper, but it might not lead to dedicated action. When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.

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."

Lion"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
are real
only if
given freely
Commanding
Do it or else. That's an order. It's part of your job — now. Commands beget compliance, not commitment.
Blindsiding
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.
One-more-thing
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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Dispersity Adversity  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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More articles on Emotions at Work:

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We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
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See also Emotions at Work, Effective Communication at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Tuckman's stages of group developmentComing December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
An actual straw manAnd on December 14: Straw Man Variants
The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.

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