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:
- Responding to Rumors
- Have you ever heard nasty rumors about yourself? When rumors are damaging, they can hurt our careers,
our self-esteem, and even our health. Sadly, our response to rumors often compounds the serious damage
- Responding to Threats: I
- Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure
mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
- Quips That Work at Work: II
- Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using
humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where
thinking can resume.
- Directed Attention Fatigue
- Humans have a limited capacity to concentrate attention on thought-intensive tasks. After a time, we
must rest and renew. Most brainwork jobs aren't designed with this in mind.
- Dealing with Deniable Intimidation
- Some people use intimidation so stealthily that only their targets recognize the behavior as abusive
or intimidating. Targets are often so frustrated, angered, and confused that they cannot find suitable
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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