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:
- The Triangulation Zone
- When somebody complains to you about someone else's performance, you're entering into another dimension
— a dimension of three minds. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Triangulation
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages
of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume
that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- 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.
- Top 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
- Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't
realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
See also Emotions at Work, Effective Communication at Work and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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