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:
- Email Happens
- Email is a wonderful medium for some communications, and extremely dangerous for others. What are its
limitations? How can we use email safely?
- Think in Living Color
- Feeling trapped, with no clear way out, often leads to anger. One way to defuse your anger is to notice
false traps, particularly the false dichotomy. When you notice that you're the target of a false dichotomy,
you can control your anger more easily — and then the trap often disappears.
- Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
- 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.
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And 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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