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.
- Down So Low the Only Place to Go Is Up
- The past few years have been hard. Some of us have lost hope. What do you do when you're down
so low the only place to go is up?
- The Fundamental Attribution Error
- When we try to understand the behavior of others, we often make a particularly human mistake. We tend
to attribute too much to character and disposition and too little to situation and context. When we
seek a better balance, we can adopt a more accepting view of events around us.
- The Injured Teammate: II
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How
do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
- 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
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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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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