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

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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

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.
The unappreciative bossThe Unappreciative Boss
Do you work for a boss who doesn't appreciate you? Do you feel ignored or excessively criticized? If you do, life can be a misery, if you make it so. Or you can work around it. It's up to you to choose.
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelFooling Ourselves
Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016How to Listen to Someone Who's Dead Wrong
Sometimes we must listen attentively to someone with whom we strongly disagree. The urge to interrupt can be overpowering. How can we maintain enough self-control to really listen?

See also Emotions at Work, Effective Communication at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenGBFYqdeDxZESDSsjner@ChacmtFQZGrwOdySPdSsoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!